Every day, the Department of Agriculture is hard at work to strengthen the rural economy and grow our rural communities.
Right now we continue to focus on responding to the drought that's impacting much of our nation. My thoughts remain with those who are affected, and President Obama and I will continue doing all we can to help. Unfortunately the disaster programs contained in the 2008 Farm Bill have already expired, leaving us with limited tools -- and the House of Representatives still has not passed a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill, or any other drought assistance.
The Obama Administration continues to call on Congress to give USDA the tools it needs to help those impacted by drought.
Meanwhile, we continue in our work to create more jobs across America -- and a report this week on the economic benefits of our National Forests highlights why we're working hard to strengthen these important natural treasures.
Aside from their beauty, our National Forests offer practical benefits for Americans. More than half of visitors to forests visit to take part in some outdoor recreational activity -- such as hiking, biking or swimming. And whether it's for an afternoon hike or an overnight camping trip, a visit to an outdoor area gives families a chance to educate our youngsters about the value and beauty of the great outdoors.
For rural communities, National Forests hold tremendous job-creating benefits as well.
Last year 166 million visitors came to our National Forests. Their visits supported more than 200,000 jobs in rural communities, while contributing more than $13 billion in economic benefits, primarily to rural areas.
When folks visit National Forests, they bring demand for goods and services provided in nearby communities, including gas, lodging, food, equipment and through recreation providers. That's why, as the Obama Administration works to create jobs and boost economic opportunity in rural areas, we understand the value of strengthening National Forests. USDA has worked hard to increase tourism while ensuring that we protect these precious areas for generations to come.
Through the President's "America's Great Outdoors" initiative, we're helping reconnect Americans to the land by promoting National Forests, generating even more visits and encouraging more of the outdoor activity that helps contribute to a healthy nation.
On our 193 million acre National Forest lands, the USDA Forest Service has developed a new "planning rule" to manage and restore our National Forests so that they are more resilient to wildfire, and so that they continue to conserve our water resources and wildlife while providing jobs and opportunities to local communities.
We've also created thousands of jobs ensuring that our Forests can continue to support tourism -- restoring critical watershed areas, removing flammable vegetation, and maintaining and improving tens of thousands of miles of National Forest roads and trails. We will continue to look for strategies to strengthen our National Forests in the years to come, while maximizing the economic benefits of forests for local communities.
I encourage all Americans to consider a trip to one of America's National Forests this summer -- or any time of year. You will never forget their beauty, and you'll join millions of Americans in supporting the rural communities that continue leading America's economy forward.