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Letter to The Honorable Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Thune Requests Additional Funding to Fight Pine Beetles

Senator John Thune last week sent a letter along with seven other Senators to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to commit additional resources to the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to fight the widespread bark beetle infestation. The Rocky Mountain Region has 17 national forests and seven national grasslands -- including the Black Hills which have been impacted by the devastating impact of the pine beetle.

The bark beetle infestation has grown to impact 2.5 million acres of national forest land in the Intermountain West. The letter asks Secretary Vilsack to reprogram Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations and unobligated funds appropriated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to provide additional resources to this emergency situation.

"The pine beetle infestation is having a dramatic effect on the Black Hills National Forest and other forests in the region," said Thune. "The Rocky Mountain Region needs additional funding to address this issue before it gets worse. This infestation is leaving forests vulnerable to catastrophic fire and watershed degradation, which places local communities at-risk. Long term, if this situation is not addressed the infestation could impact wildlife habitats, threaten species, reduce recreation activities, and reduce water quality and quantity in this region."

In addition to Senator Thune, the letter was signed by Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Michael Enzi (R-WY), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Mark Udall (D-CO).

The full text of the letter follows:

November 23, 2009

The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, D.C. 20250-003

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

We write to request immediate dedication of additional resources for critical management activities in the Rocky Mountain Region ("Region Two") of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The health of forests, future water flows and the safety of communities in the Intermountain West are endangered as a consequence of widespread bark beetle infestation. The unprecedented threat the bark beetle infestation poses must prompt action commensurate with the scale and urgency of the situation. This will require dedication of additional USFS personnel and resources.

Region Two is composed of 17 national forests and 7 national grasslands, each with important positive contributions to regional economies and communities; routine forest service activities, resources and personnel should not be limited in order to shift funds and focus to the bark beetle infested areas of Region Two. Instead, in the face of unprecedented challenges, we ask USFS to demonstrate leadership in this emergency with dedication of $49 million in funding in addition to the annual Region Two budget for FY2010.

The bark beetle infestation in the Intermountain West has grown to affect 2.5 million acres of national forest land. Forests ravaged by bark beetles are left as standing dead timber, at risk for catastrophic fire and watershed degradation, placing local communities at risk. Large-scale infestations also diminish wildlife habitat and threaten species across the Intermountain West while simultaneously reducing recreation opportunities and local tourism industries. Healthy forests are integral to water quality and quantity. Damage to forests in the headwater states jeopardizes the livelihood of wildlife, farms and communities on the Eastern Plains, whose economic lifeblood depends on the uninterrupted flow of water.

The scope and intensity of this forest health event warrants an emergency response. Accordingly, as noted in the enclosed correspondence to Secretary Vilsack from the Governors of Wyoming and Colorado, Region Two must have access to the resources necessary to perform critical activities such as removal of hazard trees that threaten human life, infrastructure, and resources.

In order to address the emergency situation in bark beetle affected areas and meet USFS management responsibilities, Region Two will require increased funding and flexible management authority. While there may be an inclination to shuffle the existing Region Two forest service budget to finance and support the increased need for work in bark beetle affected areas of the region, we implore you to treat the bark beetle as a national emergency, and fund it as such. Routine forest service activities are a critical component of the economic well being of individuals, communities and industries across Region Two and should not be trimmed to finance emergency work, particularly while our states and our nation grapple with high unemployment and economic recession.

Therefore, we encourage the USFS to utilize funds at its disposal from both Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations (P.L. 111-88) and unobligated funds appropriated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5) to provide additional resources to the Rocky Mountain Region in this emergency situation.

As a nation, we cannot afford to ignore the imminent threat posed by bark beetle infestation throughout the Intermountain West, nor can we suffer the neglect of public lands in the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service over the course of the bark beetle epidemic, which is predicted to continue for several years. Typically we treat emergencies with expedient action and resources in addition to those allocated for annual operations. The bark beetle has created a national emergency. We urge you to provide emergency resources to protect public safety, infrastructure, and human lives.

Thank you for considering our request and for your commitment to our nation's forest lands. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Senator John Thune (R-SD)
Senator John Barrasso (R-WY)
Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS)
Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY)
Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD)
Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE)
Senator Mark Udall (D-CO)

Cc: Mr. Harris Sherman, Undersecretary of Forestry and Natural Resources
Mr. Tom Tidwell, Chief, U.S. Forest Service


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