Today Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) along with members of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry, questioned representatives of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) on the lack of priority in implementation in the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program by the USFS.
The FIA program has the enthusiastic support of professional foresters, environmentalists, industry, private landowners, and virtually every other group that has an interest in forest management. However, it became clear at today's hearing that certain regions of the Forest Service have not made a priority of implementing the program.
"I find it ironic that the National Forest Chief, who publicly advocates improving the health of the land and ending conflicts over forest management, hesitates to give his unqualified commitment to a universally popular research program that goes further toward meeting both of those objectives than any other," Goodlatte said.
FIA is a program of on-the-ground data collection which, according to the Forest Service, is the only continuous inventory that periodically quantifies the status of forest ecosystems across all private and most public land ownerships in the United States. FIA data are the most fundamental building blocks of sustainable forest management. By measuring what is happening in the forest over a period of time, they give forest managers the information needed to plan effectively, make good project-level decisions, and achieve desired outcomes.
In a research bill signed into law during the last Congress, the Agriculture Committee included a provision improving the FIA program nationwide. This new law requires data to be more timely, reliable and consistent nationwide. It requires the Forest Service to work closely with the states to determine which data are most important and how they can be organized to foster the best possible forest management. While the President's budget requests a $37 million overall increase for research programs, it proposes only a modest increase for FIA that will essentially maintain the status quo rather than aggressively implement the new law.
"Despite clear direction from Congress, I was shocked at our recent budget oversight hearing to learn that Chief Dombeck hadn't yet determined whether the FIA program was a top research priority within the Forest Service," Goodlatte said. "Both the Chief's comments and the agency's budget proposal lead me to believe that, in fact, it is not."
"Good data is the DNA of sustainable forest management," said Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR). "You can't have one without the other. If we're truly committed to sustainable forests, we must have current and reliable data that is uniformly collected throughout the United States."
Congressman Goodlatte represents Virginia's Sixth Congressional District, which includes Roanoke, Lynchburg, and the Shenandoah Valley.