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Mr. Bush's lasting legacy.

President Bush's 1991 budget foresees significant change in the way the federal government treats conservation and environmental issues. It's not all good news, to be sure. No budget can meet everyone's expectations. But this one contains important forward steps that conservationists everywhere should applaud, and several new initiatives that we must help shape in the coming session of the Congress.

In proposing over $2 billion in new spending to protect and improve the natural environment, the President would elevate the Environmental Protection Agency to Cabinet status; increase funds for Superfund, hazardous waste cleanups, and wetlands protection; and add almost a billion dollars for natural-resources research, including global climate change.

The budget for the National Forest System would be altered, with a 10 percent reduction in planned timber sales, accompanied by solid increases in the budgets for wildlife, recreation, trail construction, and soil, water, and air improvements. A test on 12 national forests would eliminate "below-cost" timber sales and supplement local recreation budgets by $10 million to see if displaced jobs and economic activity can be offset.

One dramatic step proposed by the President is a new environmental initiative called America the Beautiful. Designed to enhance existing natural and recreational resources and address mounting concerns about the buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the America the Beautiful program proposes a substantial expansion in federal land acquisition and a major nationwide tree-planting program.

Under the land-acquisition portion of the program, almost $89 million of the Land and Water Conservation Fund would be allocated for purchasing new additions to the National Forest System.

The tree-planting program would be funded with $175 million in new federal funds during 1991, and would be aimed at lands from rural to urban. On the rural front, $110 million would provide for a significant increase in technical assistance and cost-sharing to private nonindustrial landowners as a way of encouraging conversion of marginal crop and pasturelands to trees, as well as improving the management of existing forestlands.

Currently, about 3.5 million acres of public and private lands are planted in trees each year. Recent years have seen steady increases in tree plantings, dominated by reforestation efforts on industrial lands. If the President's goal of one billion more trees a year is realized, that will mean the planting of an additional 1.5 to 2 million acres.

There will be immediate concern about the impact of this much new forest on the forest-products economy in coming decades. Clearly, that concern will center on what kind of land, and what kind of forests, result from the effort. Current Agriculture Department estimates indicate that about 159 million acres of cropland and 86 million acres of pastureland are either environmentally sensitive or economically marginal for agricultural production. (A new study coordinated by AFA and due to be released later this spring will firm up these estimates and develop state-by-state data.) If the tree plantings are concentrated on those lands-and particularly if they feature windbreaks, shelterbelts, and stream corridor plantings-the impact on local economies should be minimal.

The conservation impacts, however, can be significant. Too much of America's agricultural land was converted to cultivation in recent decades, and too many areas are now almost devoid of trees. What we used to call "odd areas"fencerows, steep hillsides, roadsides, stream valleys-all are now included in cultivated fields on too many farms. The result has been a loss of visual quality, reduced wildlife habitat, increased problems with agricultural pests, more soil erosion, and a general degradation of America's rural environment.

If farmers will put marginal land back into trees, much of that quality can be regained, to everyone's benefit. In addition, those trees will be "soaking up" carbon dioxide and storing it in wood and soil carbon-another environmental benefit that can help reduce carbon-dioxide buildup.

On existing forestlands, particularly nonindustrial lands, the opportunity for improved management abounds. In addition to reforestation, many timber stands could be greatly improved by some management attention. Additional educational material, technical assistance, and financial incentives can encourage more people to manage their forestland better.

How will this work? That's a little hard to tell at the moment. Congress will have much to say about program details as the budget considerations grind on. But the "delivery system" that has worked in the past will no doubt be the basis for the new program as well, with much of the action centered around the operations of the state forestry agencies.

The new urban tree emphasis has a goal of 30 million new community trees a year, and foresees a major role for states, cities, businesses, and private-sector groups. The federal urban forestry program, operated by the Forest Service through state forestry agencies, would be increased by $30 million a year. That would basically provide coordination and technical assistance to communities.

In addition, the President will submit legislation to Congress to establish a private, nonprofit foundation and fund it with a one-time grant of $35 million. As outlined in the budget proposal, the foundation will "promote public awareness, solicit financial and nonfinancial support, and, most importantly, mobilize individuals, business, governments, and community organizations in cities and towns throughout America." This idea, apparently originating in the Office of Management and Budget, will no doubt create the most concern and debate as the legislation and budget proceed to Congress.

The tree-planting and forest-improvement proposals in America the Beautiful are consistent with the materials and information developed by AFA in the Global ReLeaf campaign. We're flattered by the adoption of our information and our approach, but somewhat confused by the need to create a new foundation if the idea is to duplicate what Global ReLeaf has been able to accomplish already. That, however, will be a question the Congress can consider.

Does AFA, through Global ReLeaf, "promote public awareness, solicit funds, and mobilize people?" We're content to let the record speak for itself on that score. In just a little over a year, we've reached millions of Americans, raised close to half a million dollars in private donations, and helped mobilize Global ReLeaf campaigns in ll states and 101 cities. In addition, over 150 community groups have joined up as Global ReLeaf Cooperators and 50 companies have either established or are planning private Global ReLeaf programs.

One company alone-the Winery of Ernest and Julio Gallo-provided funds that aided community programs in 11 cities in 1989, and generated advertising exposure for Global ReLeaf that reached millions of consumers. Other companies could be similarly cited. As a direct result of these activities, millions of community trees have been planted, and millions more will go into the ground this spring. The 20th Anniversary of Earth Day, April 22, and Arbor Day-April 27 in most states-are key focal points.

We think this explosion of interest and activity in

. roving trees and forests says much about

V V the American people. They are ready and eager to take a hand in improving the world around them. They have demonstrated that given a little inspiration, some technical assistance, and some dollars, they can become a powerful force for environmental improvement.

And this activity is going to go well beyond planting trees, we are convinced. It will result in better community tree-care programs so that existing trees and forests live longer, healthier lives. It will help forest landowners manage more acres of forest in a better condition. It is already creating better environmental education programs so kids grow up with a more realistic concept of their stewardship responsibilities. It is helping to spur more community recycling programs, increasing attention to energy conservation, and creating the momentum that spawns a whole host of new conservation initiatives. We look at those things and cheer, because they bring great hope for the 1990s.

So we're tremendously grateful to President Bush for taking the America the Beautiful initiative. We may quibble a bit about the new "foundation" idea, and try to help mold an approach that utilizes Global ReLeaf and similar private nonprofit efforts to mobilize the private sector. But that will be done in a way designed to make the federal programs-and the federal dollars-even more effective in reaching out to improve the trees and forests of America.

Mr. Bush has placed his personal stamp on this new tree-planting initiative, and it is certain to become one of the lasting legacies of his presidency. just as no one can drive along Washington, DC's lovely parkways today without saying a silent "thank you" to Lady Bird johnson, millions of our grandchildren are going to appreciate what George Bush did for trees and forests at the turn of the 21st Century. The evidence will be living all around them. We at the American Forestry Association look forward with great anticipation to joining hands with an ever-growing circle of Americans in government, business, and private life to help that dream come to pass. AF
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Title Annotation:George Bush on environmental issues
Author:Sampson, Neil
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1990
Previous Article:Woodsmen and River Drivers.
Next Article:Conservation realities in the '90s.

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