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USDA Forest Service
Washington, D.C.

The Role of Forests in Sustainable Development
Forest Service Associate Chief Mary Wagner
APEC Forest Ministerial
Beijing, China—September 7, 2011


Mr. Chairman, distinguished ministers and senior officials, colleagues, ladies and gentleman: On behalf of the United States, we are delighted to be here to participate in the First APEC Ministers Responsible for Forestry Ministerial meeting. I want to first thank Minister JIA, the State Forestry Administration, and APFnet, the meeting secretariat, for your excellent preparations and coordination in hosting this outstanding program.

Over the past 2 days, we have had the opportunity to hear valuable insights and experiences from Member economies, NGOs, and international organizations. Thank you for the opportunity to share a few thoughts, based on U.S. experiences, on the role that forests and forest management have played in sustainable development; “green” economic development; and local, regional, and international partnerships.

Commitment to Sustainable Development

We are all aware of the critical roles that forests play in maintaining our climate, our freshwater systems and soils, and our biodiversity, all of which are critical for food security and other key aspects of human well-being. Forests are also critical for watersheds, carbon management and clean air, and the conservation of critical species and ecosystems.

What we have come to learn and appreciate is that forests and forest management are not just about timber. Forests play a critical role in sustainable development, from combating soil erosion in agricultural fields to mitigating the effects of climate change. We all know that the lack of clean water and clean air can result in adverse social and economic impacts on communities and economies. But the relationship is not just one-directional. Climate change and its associated stressors can also have devastating consequences on watershed health, directly affecting water supplies and other ecosystems services that we need from our forests.

Many of our forest areas are experiencing drought and major outbreaks of insects and diseases. Drought-stressed forests are especially vulnerable to wildfire as well as to outbreaks of insects and disease. And in the last 10 years, at least nine U.S. states have had record-breaking fires on a scale rarely seen in our history.
 
Green Economic Development

As we all acknowledge, forests and forest products are vital to the health of many APEC economies; that is certainly the case in the United States. The United States is the world’s largest producer and consumer of wood. As is the case in many of your economies, the forest products industry is a significant source of jobs and revenues in many of our U.S. states. In California, for example, the forest products industry accounts for more than 68,000 jobs, and California’s forest products are worth approximately $16.8 billion dollars annually.

However, the economic downturn over the past several years has had a significant impact on the forest products sector. This economic environment presents challenges and opportunities and a chance to position the forestry sector as an engine of green growth. As ministers responsible for forestry in our respective economies, we should seek opportunities to encourage our national leaders to pursue strategies that capitalize on the critical role that forests can play in developing a green economy.

In the United States, we have come to understand the relationship among environmental protection, forest management, and economic growth. In February 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, an economic stimulus measure with over $1 billion dollars for projects administered by the U.S. Forest Service, including efforts to clean up abandoned mining lands, restore forest trails, resurface roads, improve recreational facilities, and treat forests to promote forest health and reduce wildfire risk. This is a clear example of how investing in forests and their management not only stimulates the economy, but also enhances positive social and economic impacts in our local communities.

Ladies and gentlemen: Markets for forest products are changing. Consumers are increasingly demanding assurances that the forest products they buy have been legally harvested, and governments as well as private companies are responding to this change. In the United States, we amended the century-old Lacey Act in 2008 to make it illegal to import any plant or plant product taken in violation of foreign laws. As we heard from our Australian and Indonesian colleagues, this U.S. initiative is only one of a number of similar efforts to encourage “due diligence” concerning the legality of the trade in forest products. Many private companies, in the United States and around the world, are instituting their own policies and procedures to exclude illegal wood from their supply chains. This is important because effective action to combat illegal logging and associated trade requires support and commitment from all stakeholders, particularly in the private sector.

Forests Lead to Partnerships

In response to the forestry challenges we all face, my agency, the U.S. Forest Service, is focusing on forest ecosystem restoration at a watershed scale to enhance forest and watershed resiliency and biodiversity, prevent the loss of large carbon sinks, and maintain jobs. All of these efforts require us to work broadly across all lands, public and private, federal and state, and to coordinate planning and management with other land uses, such as agriculture and urban development. We value the role that community-based organizations as well as NGOs and local, state, and tribal partners are playing in these restoration efforts. We celebrate the global recognition of the importance of developing jobs; creating new markets related to water, carbon, and biodiversity; and adopting sound business models that promote investment in sustainable forest management to ensure that benefits flow to local communities.

The United States has just issued a new Report on Sustainable Forests. The report uses the Montreal Process criteria and indicators and fosters open and transparent reporting on current forest conditions and recent trends in the United States. We are excited about its publication.

Beyond what the United States is doing within our own borders, we have international partnerships in promoting sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation. For example, we have worked with Australia on wildfire management; with China on invasive species and forest restoration; with Indonesia on conserving biodiversity, combating illegal logging, and addressing forest-related climate change; with Korea on forestry research; and with Peru on the revamping of forest laws and institutions.

Regionally, we have been a supporter of APEC taking a constructive role in promoting sustainable forest management, promoting trade in legally harvested forest products, and combating illegal logging and associated trade.  We are pleased that APEC has decided to establish an experts group to enhance the efforts of member economies to take concrete steps to promote trade in legally harvested forest products and to combat illegal logging and associated trade. We also applaud the efforts taken by a number of producers, NGOs, and companies in the private sector to strengthen policy, management, and enforcement measures to combat illegal logging and associated trade.  In particular, we note the substantial measures taken by Indonesia in developing and implementing its Timber Legality Assurance System, as described by our Indonesian colleague just yesterday; Peru’s ambitious overhaul of its forestry and wildlife laws and institutions, just completed earlier this year; and the important efforts here in China to strengthen timber legality verification systems and capacities.

Multilaterally, the United States actively participates in a range of processes relevant to forests, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, REDD-plus discussions under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the International Tropical Timber Organization, the U.N. Forum on Forests, and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and its regional commissions. We also participate in regional networks such as the Asia Forest Partnership; and APFNet, one of the co-sponsors of this Ministerial. In this regard, we look forward to actively participating in Asia Pacific Forest Week here in Beijing in November, and we give our thanks in advance to both FAO and China for organizing this important event.

Commitment to Forests

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to engaging with each of you as we address and advance our commitment to highlighting the importance of forests in maintaining the ecological basis for green growth and improved human well-being.

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Last modified March 29, 2013
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