USDA’s ‘Building Blocks’ highlight importance of forestry

The US Agriculture Secretary has shared the results of the first year of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA)’s Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry project, highlighting the impact forestland owners can have on the country’s natural resource conservation.

One year after Tom Vilsack unveiled the plans at Michigan State University, he spoke about the goals and results of the actions taken by the state department to assist forestland investors, owners and farmers to help lower climate change and preserve resources.

During the speech at the Center for America Progress in Washington, DC, Mr Vilsack also announced that there was to be an additional investment of $72.3 million given to help raise carbon storage levels in healthy soils.

He told delegates at the event: “American farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners are global leaders in conserving rural America’s natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With today’s announcements, USDA is providing the necessary tools and resources called for under the President’s Climate Action Plan so producers and landowners can successfully create economic opportunity and provide the food, fiber and energy needs of a growing global population.”

The 10 Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture comprise a series of voluntary initiatives that are predicted to lower net carbon emissions and raise carbon capture by more than 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent by 2025. This equates to around two per cent of economy-wide emissions. Among the building blocks are a range of moves including technology advancement and environmental elements all aimed at generating clean, renewable energy.

The 2015 Building Blocks set out yearly targets that rely on incentive-based forestry, conservation and energy programmes, all of which make use of a range of data, technology and partnerships to ensure the end results are maximised.

Over the course of the fiscal year 2016, NRCS has confirmed that it will invest around $300 million through EQIP for programmes such as forestry management, nutrient management and energy improvements, all of which will help in the battle to lower the rate of climate change. The body will work alongside landowners and investors to ensure the targets for boosted operations and environmental outcomes are met.

Forest landowners will now have more flexibility in terms of the rolling out of their forest management plans and provisions, as NRCS bring in updates to ensure EQIP is more responsive to their needs.

Further emphasis will also be placed on the importance of the country’s timber and timber products industry. In September last year, USDA and the Softwood Lumber Board and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council, gifted $3 million worth of funding to support the creation of tall wood projects in the US. The winners of the US Tall Wood Building Prize Competition were given the money to start the developments in New York and Portland, Oregon. They showed that, by making use of wood as a substitute for other building materials that were more greenhouse gas-intensive, the developments were able to store far more carbon and offset far more emissions than conventional buildings would be able to.

As of the beginning of this year, 23.6 million acres of forest land has been registered in the Conservation Reserve Program by USDA, which ensures that financial incentives are given to farmers and ranchers to take away environmentally sensitive agricultural land from production. USDA is working with America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to ensure that their operations and communities are better equipped to deal with a changing climate. As such, they are becoming seen as sustainable land management leaders and are setting a template for the rest of the world in terms of rolling out successful climate change solutions.

GWD Forestry spokesman, James Barrett, said: “Anything that highlights the importance of forestland to the environment is a positive thing and the USDA’s Building Blocks serve to do just that. Sustainable forestry management is a key aspect in the drive to lower climate change and the fact that the USDA is assisting landowners in this arena can only be positive news for the future.”

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