King, Wicker Introduce Bill to Establish “Future of Forests” Panel

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) introduced bipartisan legislation to convene a federal advisory panel tasked with making recommendations to secure the health of America’s forests.

The “Blue Ribbon” panel would evaluate and review the U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory & Analysis (FIA) program’s past progress, current priorities, and future needs in order to address climate change effectively, promote carbon trading, support forest health, and bolster sustainable wood production. It would include recognized leaders and experts from state and federal agencies, academia, and industry and align with the FOR/ME Initiative in Maine, seeking innovative thinking for forest resources.

“Economics and industry are evolving, and this puts us at an important crossroads as we envision the future of forests,” said Senator King. “It is critical that the Forest Service has the best possible data to support the health of our rural communities and mitigate the effects of climate change. That’s why I’m pushing with my Mississippi colleague to create a Blue Ribbon panel comprised of industry experts and leaders that can recommend key ways to modernize the FIA program. A better understanding of our forests will go a long way to protect our environment, support our economy, and create quality jobs in the most rural areas of our nation.”

“Forestry and forest products are among Mississippi’s biggest economic contributors,” Senator Wicker said. “It is important that our foresters and the industries they support have the data needed to inform their planning and decision making. However, we have not had a Blue Ribbon Panel in almost two decades. This legislation would allow experts to suggest new strategies to address the changing needs of the forestry industry.”

“The FIA program is already the best forest-data source in the world, but it needs improvement. There are changes we need to make to the FIA program immediately, and we need continuous improvement in the future,” said Dave Tenny, founding President and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners. “While we work to modernize FIA today, Senators King and Wicker’s blue ribbon panel will help FIA look ahead and strategically identify further improvements for the long term. Healthy and resilient forests are essential to meet our environmental and economic goals, including finding enduring solutions to climate change. Sixty percent of our forests are privately owned, but one-hundred percent of forest managers depend on high-quality data to help our forests provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat, and good paying rural jobs. We applaud Senators King and Wicker for introducing bipartisan legislation and look forward to working with them and their colleagues to improve forest data nationwide.”

“NASF has been both a strong proponent of FIA as well as an advocate for program change and is uniquely positioned with respect to FIA program delivery, as the only partner contributing significant dollars to collecting and analyzing data nationwide,” said Jay Farrell, Executive Director of the National Association of State Foresters. “NASF has been a strong advocate of bringing additional resources to the FIA program and pushing for them to be used as efficiently as possible. We appreciate the efforts from Senators King (I-ME) and Wicker (R-MS) to introduce bipartisan legislation to convene a federal advisory panel tasked with making recommendations to support data collection critical to the health of America’s forests.”

“In Maine, where the vast majority of forest ownership is private, the FIA program provides important information that guides the management of sustainable, healthy and resilient forests,” said Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council. “Advances in forest inventory technologies and in the importance of our growing forest bioeconomy to the nation are new and critical aspects of the FIA program of the future. For that reason, the Council thanks Senator King for his focus on a review of the program by a Blue Ribbon Commission.”

Established under Senators King and Wicker’s legislation, the FIA Blue Ribbon Panel will include 10 to 20 members made up of experts/representatives from state and federal agencies, universities, industry, and nongovernmental organizations, who have expertise in forest biometrics, inventory, and remote sensing technology.

The first FIA Blue Ribbon Panel was formed in 1991 and led to a nationally-consistent vision for the program, while the second was organized in 1998 with an update in 2001 to assess progress on items identified by the first panel. Both panels were organized and led by an external organization with national and cross-sector representation of key program stakeholders that led to formal reports with specific action items. Given the nearly two decades since the last Blue Ribbon Panel and extensive shifts in both technology as well as forest conditions, a third Blue Ribbon Panel is timely and needed to ensure overall program success, particularly for addressing current needs and emerging policy. Senator King previously raised the need for this legislation with Victoria Christiansen, then-Chief of the U.S. Forest Service during a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Senator King is a strong supporter of efforts to revitalize Maine’s forest economy to further economic opportunities for Maine people. He was key in establishing the Forest Opportunity Roadmap Maine (FOR/ME) Initiative, an industry-led initiative that is helping to diversify the state’s wood products businesses, attract investments, support research and development, and develop greater economic prosperity for rural communities impacted by mill closures. Senator King has introduced the Biomass Thermal Utilization (BTU) Act to support renewable energy and Maine’s forest products industry. He is also a cosponsor of several bills focused on climate related initiatives, including the Growing Climate Solutions Act, legislation that would break down barriers to farmers and foresters interested in participating in carbon markets so they can be rewarded for climate-smart practices, and the Trillion Trees Initiativeto support U.S. leadership in reducing carbon in the atmosphere by restoring and conserving forests, grasslands, wetlands, and coastal habitats.  

The FOR/ME Initiative was funded as a result of the Economic Development Assessment Team (EDAT) requested by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and King in 2016, with support from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration in order to create strategies for job growth and economic development in Maine’s rural communities. FOR/ME is implementing a roadmap and action plan for the development of new markets for Maine’s forest resources, including the strengthening of existing forest products manufacturing, the attraction of investment in emerging technology, and the utilization of forest products residuals in CHP biomass plants, microgrids, modern thermal systems, and new forest products development. The FOR/ME Initiative has already resulted in multiple funding opportunities for Maine organizations and new investment in Maine’s forest economy.

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