It’s a pleasure to be here today. Partnerships like this are what conservation is all about. What you are trying to achieve here dovetails perfectly with the Forest Service mission—and I’d like to thank you for it. This is a great example of partnership.
The Importance of Forests
Our nation’s green infrastructure is vitally important. Forests are vital, in part, for the wood they grow. Here in the South, that is especially important, because the South is the world’s largest wood-producing region. In 2000, forest-related industries in the United States accounted for the equivalent of about 281,000 full-time jobs, and the value of U.S. wood removed was about $18.8 billion.
But the greatest forest-related contribution to our economy comes from outdoor recreation. A study in 2006 found that the active outdoor industry on all lands nationwide contributes about $730 billion annually to the U.S. economy, supporting around 6.5 million jobs.
Forests also provide many other services that Americans want and need. One of the most important is water. Forests deliver most of America’s drinking water. They cover barely a third of the nation’s land area, yet they deliver more than half of America’s water supplies.
Ultimately, our land management success will hinge on watershed health. Watersheds capable of delivering plentiful supplies of pure, clean water can also deliver a range of other benefits—wood, biodiversity, soil protection, carbon storage, outdoor recreation, and more.
In short, Americans depend on their green infrastructure for a wide range of social, economic, and ecological benefits. People often take these benefits for granted, such as water delivery or climate regulation, but that makes them no less real. Forests are like the world’s lungs—a living bulwark against disease. We need to ensure that our forest ecosystems are whole, with all of their functions and processes intact. For that, we need to invest in our green infrastructure.
That is particularly important here in the South, where human impacts have been so extensive and intrusive on our native forest ecosystems. Longleaf pine once extended in a vast arc across the Coastal Plain, from southern Virginia, to Florida, to East Texas. Today, longleaf pine covers barely 4 percent of its original area, and most longleaf habitat is badly fragmented or otherwise degraded.
As a result, 29 species that depend on longleaf forest are federally listed as threatened or endangered. As you know, red-cockaded woodpecker is one. It is down to about 1 percent of its original population. And gopher tortoise is another. It is down to a small part of its original range, mostly in Florida.
Well-managed longleaf pine is adapted to climate change. It is better adapted to storms than other southern pine types. It is fire-adapted, so it reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfire and insect infestations. It is critical to sustaining hundreds of fire-adapted plants and animals, including bobwhite quail, which has been in steep decline.
In the South, the Forest Service is a member of a robust partnership—America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative. Consisting of over 30 agencies and organizations, its goal is to increase the longleaf pine ecosystem from 4.4 million acres to 8 million acres over a 15-year period. In 2012, the Forest Service completed longleaf pine restoration work on about 510,000 acres, mostly on the national forests in the South. And projects funded under the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program on the Osceola and Desoto National Forests have accelerated our restoration efforts.
As part of the America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative, the Longleaf Stewardship Fund supports accelerated restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem. Through collaborative and results-oriented actions, we are contributing to the restoration goals in the Range-Wide Conservation Plan for longleaf pine. Our partners include the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Southern Company, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2012 alone, we funded 16 projects totaling over 100,000 acres of restoration work.
Since 2008, the Forest Service has spent nearly $12 million to conserve longleaf pine on state and private lands—almost $9 million in Recovery Act funds and another $3 million from competitive grants. And scientists at our Southern Research Station have been instrumental in moving longleaf restoration forward. They are working with partners to provide the knowledge and technologies needed to successfully restore and manage these ecosystems.
Restoration is the key. By restoration, I mean not only keeping forest land forested, but also restoring the structure and function of healthy, resilient forest ecosystems—ecosystems that are capable, even in an era of climate change, of delivering plentiful supplies of pure, clean water, habitat for birds and other wildlife, and all the other goods and services that Americans want and need from their forests.
You here in this room understand that, and you are leading the way. You are working together collaboratively to restore longleaf pine by pooling resources across individuals and organizations—by working together across jurisdictions to restore the longleaf ecosystem on a landscape scale.
Our challenge is to bring folks together across entire landscapes, like you have, to work toward common restoration goals. The Forest Service is taking a series of management actions to make that happen by accelerating restoration on the national forests and grasslands. Together, these management actions will help set a new course to the future—a future of healthy, resilient forests and grasslands on a landscape scale.
We estimate that up to 42 percent of the National Forest System is in need of restoration—up to 82 million acres. We have identified 12.5 million acres in need of mechanical treatments alone, and we are picking up the pace. In 2011, we completed about 3.7 million acres of restoration work.
That’s several times more than we did just 10 years ago. In 2012, we conducted restoration treatments on about 4 million acres. To help address the rising need for mechanical restoration treatments, we are prepared to raise timber harvest levels by 20 percent, from 2.4 billion board feet in 2011 to 3.0 billion board feet by fiscal year 2014.
So how are we doing this with flat or declining budgets?
We are expanding collaborative landscape-scale partnerships. We have identified 23 of these large-scale projects across the country and dedicated funding to restore over 50,000 acres through each project.
We have finalized the new planning rule. The new rule will reduce our operational costs, reduce planning time, and lead to more restoration.
We developed a Watershed Condition Framework. The framework tracks the condition of 15,000 watersheds on the National Forest System. It helps us prioritize needed restoration work to improve overall watershed condition.
We are also implementing budgeting for integrated resource restoration, which helps us better target our scarce funds toward restoration needs. In addition, we are gaining NEPA efficiencies across large landscapes, such as the Four Forests Restoration Initiative in Arizona or a 248,000-acre landscape in the Black Hills of South Dakota. A more flexible EIS process will allow us to move quickly to address insect and disease outbreaks, wind damage, and other events without additional reviews.
We are implementing a bark beetle strategy, spending more than $100 million to address threats to public safety from falling trees and wildfires.
We are working to expand our stewardship contracting authority and improve the efficiency of our timber sales and stewardship contracts.
We are also expanding markets for woody biomass and facilitating green building on the National Forest System.
We have found strong public support for this strategy. Restoration is designed to meet social, economic, and ecological needs. Everyone benefits from healthy, resilient ecosystems—from forested landscapes that are less likely to be ravaged by insect outbreaks and catastrophic fires—that are more likely to deliver plenty of clean water and other benefits—that are more likely to support a thriving local economy. Restoration creates rural jobs; a study in Oregon found that every million dollars invested in restoration activities such as hazardous fuels reduction generates from 13 to 30 direct, indirect, and induced jobs. Restoration also attracts more visitors to rural areas, generating even more local jobs through outdoor recreation.
And restoration enjoys broad public support. Restoration delivers benefits that people want and need, such as clean water, fire protection, habitat for wildlife, recreation opportunities—and, yes, jobs. A restoration opportunity can bring community stakeholders together to find common ground and agree on the actions needed to reach shared goals.
In closing, we all stand to gain from healthy, flourishing forests.
Communities gain from all the benefits they derive, including clean air and water, habitat for wildlife, opportunities for outdoor recreation, and more. And businesses gain from stable, prosperous communities.
Electrical utilities gain from not having to worry about falling trees killed by insects and disease. Water companies gain from not having to worry about watershed degradation from catastrophic fires. In fact, Denver Water is working with the Forest Service to restore watersheds degraded by the Hayman Fire of 2002.
Sporting goods companies gain from recreation opportunities. And ski resorts gain from forests that are healthy and beautiful. In Colorado, for example, they are working with the Forest Service to collect contributions from guests for restoration. I could go on.
If we all stand to gain, then we all have an obligation to work together for restoration. Partnerships are the answer, and the question is: How do we create partnerships and make them succeed?
It takes financial resources. It takes human resources, such as volunteers who turn out for place-based conservation. It takes sound planning, such as the Range-Wide Conservation Plan for longleaf pine. It takes creativity and flexibility, and it takes thinking big, because the challenges are so daunting.
Think what it’s going to take to restore longleaf pine across some significant portion of its original range of 90 million acres: That’s really, really big.
That’s why I have such tremendous respect for you and all the other partners, for all the progress you have made. You are truly making a difference. Thank you.