Report offers concrete, bipartisan solutions to strengthen rural communities through investments in outdoor recreation, sustainable forest products and natural infrastructure
Washington, D.C. — As the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture today considers President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of agriculture, who has no background whatsoever in forest policy or land management, the Center for American Progress is releasing a new report offering a pathway to strengthen rural economies through modernizing the country’s approach to managing America’s vast national forests.
If confirmed, Sonny Perdue will oversee the U.S. Forest Service and all 193 million acres of America’s national forests. While much has been made of the nominee’s complex business arrangements and financial disclosures, little attention has been paid to the giant question mark looming over Perdue’s approach to forest management.
The report finds that with a modern approach to U.S. forest policy built on new investments, thoughtful budgeting, and government restructuring, the federal government can unleash a rural resurgence in communities across the country struggling economically.
“Taxpayers have come to expect very little from our national forests,” said Adam Fetcher, the author of the new report. “Congress and the Trump administration can strike a far better deal for the American people by adopting a modern U.S. forest policy that provides a wide range of benefits rather than a blind focus on timber. It’s time to set aside the false choice between healthy ecosystems and a healthy economy to fully embrace our forests’ enormous economic potential—especially for rural communities.”
The report provides policymakers with a menu of nonpartisan solutions to help create jobs, grow rural economies, spur investment, and open new markets, all while maintaining healthy forests. These include: unlocking new markets for sustainable forest products, such as cross-laminated timber; strengthening the outdoor recreation economy by providing greater access to public lands for hunters and anglers; and investing in natural infrastructure to provide clean drinking water to communities.
In line with the new administration’s focus on shaking up the federal government, the report also recommends moving the Forest Service from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of the Interior. The new home would not only bring efficiencies but would help shift the agency’s measure of success from board-feet to overall forest health—allowing national forests to bring a wider range of economic benefits to more Americans.
“It makes no sense that one cabinet department manages a national park, while another manages a national forest right next door,” explains Fetcher. “If the president is serious about making government work better for Americans, he should streamline federal lands management by moving the forest service to the Department of the Interior so that we can begin to realize the full economic potential of healthy national forests.”
To address the skyrocketing costs of fighting wildfires, the report also recommends a simple fix: budgeting for wildfires in the same way the government treats other natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes. The solution would provide predictability to the Forest Service and would allow the agency to conduct fire suppression activities.
Click to read “America’s Forgotten Forests: A Vision for Revitalizing Rural Economies Through Restoration.”