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Letter to The Honorable Thomas Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Johnson Joins Colleagues to Call for More Funding to Fight Beetle Epidemic

U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) has joined colleagues in calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide additional funding to help combat the ongoing pine beetle outbreak in the Black Hills National Forest. The epidemic has impacted more than 2.5 million acres in the Rocky Mountain Region of the Forest Service, which includes South Dakota.

"This is a serious problem and it has a major impact on South Dakota's economy. In the Black Hills, forest managers are able to utilize thinning and harvesting to help stop the beetle infestation, but we need to ensure they have the necessary resources," said Johnson. "The mountain pine beetle epidemic is a complex and long-term concern for the region, and I will continue working with my colleagues on this important issue."

The letter sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requests and additional $49 million above the Fiscal Year 2011 Rocky Mountain Region budget. In addition to Johnson, the letter was signed by Senators Mark Udall (D-CO), Michael Bennet (D-CO), John Barrasso (R-WY), Michael Enzi (R- WY), John Thune (R-SD) and Ben Nelson (D-NE).

A copy of the letter is below:

The Honorable Tom Vilsack

U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20250-0003

Dear Secretary Vilsack;

Last year, the additional funds you provided for critical management activities in the Rocky Mountain Region ("Region Two") of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) were instrumental in the Region's ability to perform routine functions while simultaneously fighting the bark beetle infestation. We write to thank you for your efforts last year and to urge a similar dedication of funds in fiscal year 2011 to deal with the infestation of national forest land.

The bark beetle epidemic 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 also integral to water quality and quantity throughout the region and the nation. Damage to forestlands not only impacts the ecosystems where the headwaters originate, but the species that depend on the water downstream and the farms and communities across the Eastern Plains who's economic lifeblood depend on uninterrupted flows from these rivers and streams. In short, the scope and intensity of this forest health event warrants an emergency response.

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. Region Two is composed of 17 national forests and 7 national grasslands, each with important positive contributions to regional economies and communities. However, without additional resources, routine forest service activities, resources and personnel will have to be limited in order to shift funds to focus on the bark beetle infested areas. 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. In the face of this unprecedented challenge, we ask USFS to continue to demonstrate leadership with this emergency and dedicate $49 million in additional funding above the FY2011 Region Two budget. Every effort should be made to ensure the additional funds are not diverted from other Forest Service Regions facing similar infestations.

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 and work to protect public safety, infrastructure and human lives should be funded as such. Therefore, we encourage the USFS to supplement Region Two funding to adequately address this disaster, which is decimating the west.

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

Sincerely,

Mark Udall
United States Senator

Michael Bennet
United States Senator

John Barrasso
United States Senator

Michael Enzi
United States Senator

Tim Johnson
United States Senator

John Thune
United States Senator

Ben Nelson
United States Senator


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