October 30, 2010

Statement by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wyden Eastside Forest Legislation

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30, 2010 – Today, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack made the following statement in support of Senator Ron Wyden’s Eastside Forest Legislation.

“One of the most significant challenges we face in our National Forests is finding greater common ground among environmentalists, forest industry, and rural communities that allows us to support jobs in these communities and to restore our forests, to make them more resilient, to benefit water resources, to address climate change, to protect wildlife and to provide recreational opportunities. Over the last several months, under Senator Wyden’s leadership, the Forest Service, stakeholders in Oregon, and the Senator’s staff have worked together to refine a legislative proposal that if adequately funded would meet this challenge and benefit the people and forests of Oregon. 

“When I recently visited Oregon, I met with stakeholders involved in putting together this proposal and was impressed by the common vision that has been developed for eastside forests in Oregon.  I know Senator Wyden is considering a number of approaches to enact legislation that would codify the work of the stakeholders in this region-specific project.  No matter what approach is taken, one of the Senator’s goals is to establish performance goals for the forests covered under the legislation. With respect to this issue, since the forest health needs and the need for timber infrastructure are so great, I believe a ramp up to perform mechanical treatments would be beneficial while the proposed forest advisory council completes their work on how to develop and implement landscape-scale ecological restoration projects.  Therefore, for forests in eastern Oregon, if the ultimate legislation provided USDA discretion to set performance goals, my intent would be to establish performance goals for mechanical treatment of 39,000 acres the first year, 58,000 acres the second year, and 80,000 acres the third year.  These goals are consistent with existing forest management plans which have been through a public environmental review.  And, going forward we support a robust public process for analyzing treatments carried out to meet these goals.  These performance goals are ambitious but sustainable and achievable provided there is sufficient funding to allow the Forest Service to prepare and implement stewardship contracts, timber sales, and other mechanical treatments. 

“As the Senator and I have discussed, since there are many high-priority programs throughout the National Forest System, we cannot shift funding from other regions to fund these treatments. Thus, I support the inclusion of language in proposed legislation that states it will not impact funds from other regions or forests. 

“As the administration expressed in testimony on S. 2895, we have reservations about legislating specific treatment levels and other aspects of our forest plans.  However, I believe the approach and hard work of the stakeholders in Oregon, and the Senator’s work directly with the Forest Service ensure this effort can serve as a model for collaboration in bringing together various stakeholders.   I commend Senator Wyden for his leadership and look forward to continued work with him and his staff as this proposal moves forward.”