Friday, May 23, 2014

Ag Secretary Vilsack Announces plan addressing insect problem in National Forests  
DENVER-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a plan to help 94 national forest areas in 35 states including Idaho to tackle the problem of insects and disease that weaken forests and increase the risk of forest fire. 
"USDA and the Forest Service are working to improve the health of our national forests and reduce the risk of forest fire," said Vilsack. "The designations announced today, made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill, will support the Forest Service's ability to work with partners to restore areas within the National Forest System that have been impacted by insects and disease."
The new Farm Bill amends the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 to allow the Forest Service to more quickly plan projects for insect and disease treatments within designated areas, in an effort to increase the pace and scale of restoration across the National Forest System. Using the new tools in the Farm Bill, restoration projects in these designated areas have to be developed in collaboration with a diverse group of stakeholders and must meet environmental safeguards.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell designated over 45 million acres* of the National Forest System in response to requests from governors whose states are experiencing, or are at risk of, an insect or disease epidemic. Insect and disease damage makes forests more susceptible to wildfire.
"Working with local partners to combat insect and disease infestation has long been one of our top priorities, and this new authority gives us additional tools to implement landscape scale projects," said Chief Tidwell. "We will continue our commitment to involve the public as we develop and implement projects in these areas."
In addition, Vilsack also announced today another Farm Bill initiative to help remove insect infected trees from National Forest Service lands. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program, administered by the Farm Service Agency, supports the harvesting and transporting of forest residue to an energy facility. These payments are designed for energy generation while reducing fire, insect and disease threats on public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. USDA announced that the program has been reauthorized for $25 million annually with funding becoming available on June 9th.

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