U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) led a bipartisan group of members of Congress in writing to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, urging him to direct unobligated American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to expand the Forest Service's timber program by as much as $150 million. These funds could have a direct impact on the Black Hills, by creating jobs, combating mountain pine beetles, and decreasing the risk of wildfire.
"As we know all too well in western South Dakota, we face some very serious forest management challenges in the Black Hills, including growing infestations of mountain pine beetles and increased risk of wild fire. This not only endangers the safety of rural communities, but it inhibits economic growth," Rep. Herseth Sandlin said. "Using even a small portion of the Forest Service's ARRA funds for the timber program will help to create jobs in rural areas, cut down on catastrophic wildfires, and promote healthy forests."
Tom Troxel, Director, Black Hills Forest Resource Association said, "I hope USDA will direct additional funds to the Black Hills National Forest so the Forest Service can do more thinning ahead of the mountain pine beetle epidemic and remove trees that have already been killed by the beetles. Every resource program on the Forest would benefit from that."
The following members joined Rep. Herseth Sandlin and Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon in signing the bipartisan letter: Peter DeFazio (D-OR), James Oberstar (D-MN), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Mike Ross (D-AR), Marion Berry (D-AR), Greg Walden (R-OR), Allen Boyd (D-FL), Mike Thompson (D-CA), John Salazar (D-CO), Bart Stupak (D-MI), Steve Kagen (D-WI), Bill Owens (D-NY), and Walt Minnick (D-ID).
Text of the letter is below:
August 11, 2010
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
The primary goal of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is to put Americans back to work. This objective is particularly important in the rural areas that we represent, many of which faced high unemployment long before the financial crisis of 2008 and the economic downturn which followed. Therefore, it is critically important that a special focus be paid to funding programs that create jobs in rural areas.
As you know, ARRA provided $1.15 billion to the U.S. Forest Service for construction; wildfire management; and maintenance and repair of facilities and trails, among other purposes. While much of this funding has already been obligated, we understand that a significant amount has not. Increasing funding for the timber program is one of the most cost-effective ways of creating jobs in rural areas, while also improving the health of our federal forests. Studies indicate that an increase of $150 million in funding for forest management will create over 17,000 jobs; just $57 million would create 6,000.
Given that all ARRA funds must be obligated by September 30, 2010, we urge you to direct unobligated USDA funds to expand the timber program by $57 to $150 million. Doing so will help to establish more jobs in our rural communities, cut down on catastrophic wildfires, and promote healthy forests. We look forward to working with you on this important issue and advancing our shared goal of creating jobs in rural America.