Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award of more than $2.5 million in grants to develop wood energy teams in 11 states and an additional $1.25 million for nine wood energy projects.
"Renewable wood energy is part of the Obama Administration's 'all of the above' energy strategy," Vilsack said. "Working with our partners, the Forest Service is supporting development of wood energy projects that promote sound forest management, expand regional economies and create new rural jobs."
The federal funds will leverage more than $4.5 million in investments from USDA partners. Under the terms of the agreements announced today, private, state and federal organizations will work together to stimulate the development of additional wood energy projects in their states. Activities may include workshops that provide technical, financial and environmental information, preliminary engineering assessments and community outreach needed to support development of wood energy projects.
Grant recipients are from: Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia.
Secretary Vilsack also announced projects to be funded through the Wood-to-Energy grant program, which will use woody material from National Forest System lands, such as beetle-killed trees, to improve forest health and aid in wildfire prevention. The grant program helps applicants complete the necessary design work needed to secure public or private investment for construction.
This year more than $1.25 million will be provided to assist projects in New Hampshire, Minnesota, California, Oregon, and Washington. For more information on the projects funded by the Forest Service, please visit the Statewide Wood Energy Teams (SWET) and Wood to Energy Grant Recipients page.
The Forest Service Wood to Energy grant program began in 2005 and has provided more than $36 million toward various projects, ranging from biomass boilers for schools and hospitals, to helping businesses acquire equipment that improves processing efficiencies. So far, over 150 grants have been awarded to small businesses, non-profits, tribes and local state agencies to improve forest health, while creating jobs, green energy and healthy communities.
Today's announcements support forest restoration and the Obama administration's efforts to help communities better prepare for and reduce the severity of wildfires, especially in the face of climate change. Over the past ten years the Forest Service has had to borrow $3.2 billion dollars from other agency programs to support emergency wildfire suppression costs amid longer fire seasons and more frequent and severe wildfire activity. On July 8th, President Obama requested $615 million for emergency wildfire suppression activities for FY 2014, and a new budget approach to fund wildfire suppression similar to other natural disaster events, mirroring bipartisan legislation proposed by Congress. These actions alleviate the need to conduct fire transfers this year and in future years and will help reduce firefighting costs, promote long-term forest health, and maintain fiscal responsibility.
The mission of the Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the Nation's clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.