A thorough discussion about protecting America’s forests

Farm Forum

Agroforestry. When you think of a forest, you don’t think of it in terms of a crop, but in many cases that’s what it is. The house you live in, the nuts and fruit you eat all comes from trees. Trees, with their root systems protect soils and soften the effects of wind. They help hold water.

The Forest Products industry contributes 4.5 percent of U.S. manufacturing’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), produces $200 billion in products a year, provides jobs for nearly 900,000 people and is one of the top ten manufacturers in 47 states. No forests, no nuts, no windbreaks, no topsoil.

Last week during the annual USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum, I led a panel discussion featuring Bill Toomey, the Director of Forest Health Protection for the Nature Conservancy’s North American Forest Priority and the Conservancy’s Urban Conservation Strategies Initiative; Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort’s senior vice president, where he is responsible for industry advocacy and research programs and John H. McDaniel of the American Lumber Standard Committee.

Mr. Toomey stressed that the key to forest health is preventing the introduction of new, invasive species, early detection, and reduction of spread by promoting safe practices including not moving firewood. Mr. Regelbrugge talked about the importance of preventing the spread of blight and bacterial pathogens to protect America’s nursery industry, which, he said, represents a third of America’s specialty crop industry. He praised the passage by Congress of the new Farm Bill which, he said, contains a substantial increase in the amount of funding to address the problem. Mr. McDaniel spoke of about Implementing ISPM-15, which is intended to prevent the international transport and spread of disease and insects in wood-based packing materials and pallets.

We talked, in front of a near-capacity crowd, about how insects, diseases, and unwanted plants pose significant threats to our nation’s forests. It was agreed that government cannot fight this battle alone. We will need the help of everyone, including industry, universities, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), and local citizens.