December 8, 2008
Office of the President-Elect
Dear President-Elect Obama:
The Society of American Foresters (SAF) is the national scientific and educational organization representing the forestry profession in the United States. SAF, with more than 14,500 forestry professionals across the United States, believes in sustainable management and stewardship of the nation's public and private forests.
The nation's forests, can offer significant contributions to your key environmental priorities of energy independence, climate change, healthy landscapes and can create a vibrant economy. However, business as usual will not bring about the change our nation needs. We need new approaches to these challenges, and forests provide solutions to the pressing issues of the day including creating green jobs, providing energy solutions, and reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through carbon sequestration. Our forests provide tremendous environmental benefits and economical wealth for the Nation.
In support of your goal of energy independence, our forests represent a key solution in biofuels and bioenergy. Increased utilization of forest biomass will help improve the nation's energy security by providing an abundant, renewable fuel resource as a substitute for imported fossil fuels in both public utility and industrial power generation facilities, as well as a potential domestic source of transportation fuels. Homegrown biomass will create jobs and generate wealth.
Forests can reduce atmospheric GHG concentrations by sequestering atmospheric carbon in forest biomass and soil and by storing carbon in wood products made from harvested trees. As part of a strategy to tackle global warming, sustainable management of our forests can mitigate carbon in the atmosphere. Climate change policies and other actions should recognize wood products (in lieu of non-renewable, non carbon storing, building materials), forest biomass energy (in lieu of fossil fuel-based energy sources), modification of wildfire behavior, and avoided land-use change as activities that can reduce GHG emissions. Unique among all possible remedies, forests provide essential environmental and social benefits, including clean water, wildlife habitat, recreation, forest products, and other values and uses.
In order to ensure a healthy landscape across the nation, it will be critical to keep forests as forests. Almost 60 percent of the nation's forests are privately owned, and those forests provide tremendous public benefits. These privately-owned forests face pressure from development and forest health threats, including insects, diseases and invasive species. We must find solutions that support private landowners.
The federally owned forests also face health threats. Millions of acres of our National Forests suffer from a critical buildup of hazardous fuels, struggle with insect and disease infestations, and face a significant risk from catastrophic wildfire. The USDA Forest Service is hampered by inexhaustible court challenges and conflicting laws, and finds it difficult to conduct the essential management needed to protect these lands from threats.
Our nation's forests not only provide solutions to some of our most pressing environmental concerns, but their sustainable management will also contribute to the creation of green jobs and add wealth to our Nation.
We should improve USDA Forest Service efficiency through an emphasis on results. While some legislative action is needed, much can be accomplished by improving USDA Forest Service implementation of existing programs and laws. We have to consider strategies to improve program delivery without increasing costs.
We must resolve the wildfire funding situation. In the absence of adequate firefighting funding, the USDA Forest Service is forced to move hundreds of millions of dollars from other critical accounts to battle forest fires. This has disrupted many important programs that benefit public and private forests, such as recreation, research, wildlife conservation, and forest management. We urge you to work with Congress to craft a long-term solution that improves the fire suppression budget.
Correcting the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) definition is a priority. Our forests offer a tremendous opportunity to advance our goal of energy independence, and create wealth. Unfortunately, the definition of "renewable biomass" in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act excludes fiber from federal lands, and private lands other than those actively managed as plantations. This definition is needlessly narrow, and will frustrate renewable energy production, and other forest management goals across the nation, including reduction of hazardous fuels on National Forests. We urge you to work with Congress to correct this error.
Your administration can foster greater investment in government Research and Development and encourage greater private investment in these activities. Areas that need increased investment are landscape productivity, energy, climate, and ecosystem services. There is also a need to maintain and improve databases and inventories that provide critical information about our forests, such as the Forest Inventory and Analysis program.
We will follow up with further details on our concerns and suggestions. We thank you for your consideration of our recommendations.