Don't ax federal aid to Kentucky's forest owners

Privately owned woodlands benefit the public

January 9, 2012 

Kentucky's privately owned forests provide their communities with clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and forest products.

DAVID STEPHENSON

Along with Kentucky's other 467,000 family forest owners, I am proud that my woodland property in Hart County provides my community with clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and forest products.

Most people think that the federal government or big industry owns most of Kentucky's nearly 12 million acres of forests, but in fact, most of Kentucky's forests are owned by family farmers.

Family forest owners know that the threat to our land is real and growing every day. Invasive plants and insects, severe weather, loss of markets and development pressures are constant challenges. They threaten the livelihoods of many who rely on jobs from Kentucky's forest-related industries.

In Kentucky, $4.9 billion of the state's annual economy comes from forests and related industries, which provide 33,648 jobs for Kentucky citizens. Because private forests provide such important economic and conservation benefits, it's important that there be tools available to woodland owners to combat environmental threats, such as ice storms, drought and invasive plants and insects, including the emerald ash borer, which threatens all ash trees in Kentucky.

These programs help us clean up after ice storms, remove diseased trees, protect streamside areas and create wildlife habitat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Bill conservation programs provide essential tools that forest owners across the nation use to match our dollars and sweat equity to keep our forests healthy and productive for the benefit of everyone.

Right now, Congress is deciding the fate of these Farm Bill conservation programs. Some federal deficit reductions are likely to come from conservation programs that help family forest owners. I realize that we can't be immune to what needs to be done to get our national deficit under control. It's important, though, to be sure that conservation programs don't take an unfair hit at the chopping block.

For example, planting trees is the surest way to ensure the creation of oxygen for all living beings. Planting trees is something the agriculture department and the Kentucky Division of Forestry have done well for 100 years.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and others in the Kentucky delegation have long been champions of family forest owners. McConnell is uniquely positioned, with his seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, to continue to fight this fight. We're glad to have a strong leader like McConnell positioned to help ensure that forest conservation programs like tree planting and ice storm management do not take disproportionate cuts.

Comprising only a tiny percent of total Farm Bill funds, forestry conservation programs are a great deal for this country because they are so effective in ensuring that our forests will continue to provide clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities and jobs. Maintaining programs in the next Farm Bill for private forest owners is essential to preserving America's forest heritage. And that benefits all of us, because without trees, we have no oxygen to breathe.

Helping landowners keep their forests as forests benefits all Americans.

Charles D. Williams of Munfordville is a tree farmer.

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