Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

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June 24, 2014

Addressing forest threats

Action will be taken to help 94 national forest areas in 35 states, including the Hoosier National Forest in south central Indiana, address insect and disease threats that weaken forests and increase the risk of forest fire, Tom Vilsack, U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary reported.

These areas are receiving an official designation that will provide the U.S. Forest Service, working collaboratively with stakeholders, additional tools and flexibility to more efficiently plan and accomplish restoration treatments in those areas.

“USDA and the forest service are working to improve the health of our national forests and reduce the risk of forest fire,” he said. The designations, 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 have to be developed in collaboration with a diverse group of stakeholders and must meet environmental safeguards.

The forest service will use the authority to work collaboratively with states, tribes, partners, stakeholders and the public to develop and implement restoration projects within designated areas that reduce the risk of insect and disease infestations along with drought. 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,” Tidwell revealed. “We will continue our commitment to involve the public as we develop and implement projects in these areas.”

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