Vilsack moves to protect national forests

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack took a step toward undoing bad Bush administration policy on Thursday:

No logging or road project on tens of millions of forested acres will proceed without personal approval by the Agriculture Department’s secretary for at least a year while the Obama administration decides how to handle a controversial Clinton-era roadless rule, officials said today.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is signing a directive giving himself sole power to make decisions for one year on building roads and harvesting timber on nearly all of the areas covered by the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The directive can be renewed for an additional year, the department said. It covers roadless areas in Alaska but will not apply to those in Idaho, which wrote its own roadless area plan.

“This interim directive will provide consistency and clarity that will help protect our national forests until a long-term roadless policy reflecting President Obama’s commitment is developed,” Vilsack said in a statement.

Environmental-minded Democrats and non-profit organizations welcomed the news. The Washington Post and New York Times have more detail on what Vilsack’s directive means.

Many people don’t realize that the U.S. Forest Service is under the USDA’s jurisdiction. (This brief history explains that the original purpose of the service was “to provide quality water and timber for the Nation’s benefit.”) Vilsack had little prior experience in this area, because Iowa is not one of the 44 states containing a national forest and has has only a few state forests. (Click here for more information about where the 142 U.S. national forests are located.)

Although Vilsack’s latest directive will not affect Iowa directly, Iowans should be proud of our former governor’s step toward protecting some of our country’s most pristine natural areas.

By the way, the Iowa Democratic Party is honoring Secretary Vilsack, former First Lady Christie Vilsack and Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson at its Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony on June 27. Click here to reserve tickets. I’m looking forward to the event.

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