U. S. Sen. Pat Toomey wants the Forest Service to spend its forest funds on maintenance, upkeep and control of invasive species on existing federal land, rather than in the acquisition of more land.
Steve Kelly, press secretary for Toomey, said his boss and six other senators have sent a letter to Senators Jack Reed and Lisa Murkowski, chair and ranking member of the Senate for Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.
"Our Allegheny National Forest is the gem of northwest Pennsylvania and a treasure all Americans can enjoy," Toomey said. "The ANF, like other national forests, must be cared for and proactively managed to improve forest health before the government seeks to acquire more land with taxpayer dollars."
Former U. S. Congressman John Peterson weighed in on the issue, saying, "The U.S. government has finite resources and is struggling to maintain the Allegheny National Forest. Purchasing new forest land would only lessen the ability the government has to focus on revenue generating management activities and preventing disasters such as forest fires."
State Sens. Bob Robbins (R-Mercer) and Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) and State Reps. Martin Causer (R-Potter), Matt Gabler (R-Elk), and Kathy Rapp (R-Warren) have all endorsed Toomey's effort.
Toomey was joined in his letter by Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi).
The letter reads, in part, "The condition of our federal forest lands continues to deteriorate. Over the past 10 years, bark beetle epidemics and wildfires have devastated millions of acres of forest land, particularly in western states. Large landscapes of dead and infested trees pose a significant threat of forest fires, as evidenced by last summer's historic Colorado, California, and Idaho wildfires."
"However, over that same 10-year period land managed by the Forest Service has continued to grow with the Forest Service acquiring over 700,000 acres at a cost of $635 million." None of the acquisition were in Pennsylvania.
One of the management tools the senators endorse is logging.
"Timber harvests are a proven successful management tool that increase forest health, contribute $2.7 billion to the economy, and provide 16.5 jobs for every million board feet harvested," the letter states.
The letter also addresses a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill that allows state governors to request the Forest Service to designate "national forest restoration projects" where disease and insect damage is prevalent to be subject to "expedited treatment," such as timbering, tree thinning and herbicide use.
Gov. Tom Corbett has already requested such a designation for the entire ANF, and the Forest Service has agreed, according to a recent Pittsburgh Post Gazette article. Over 90 forests in 35 states have also received the priority designation.