Iowa needs healthy forests

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The state’s recent decision to dissolve Iowa’s Bureau of Forestry should be disconcerting to all Iowans.

Maintaining a visible and strong forestry bureau is important to ensure sound forest conservation and management across the state. Iowa’s 3 million acres of forests and trees provide a diverse and important range of benefits and services to Iowa’s citizens and tourists, including wildlife habitat, cleaner air and water, recreation opportunities, increased property values, timber and wood products, among others. Through outreach and cooperative programs, the Bureau of Forestry supports and enhances these vital benefits; and, ultimately, promotes the ecological and economic health of communities of all sizes across the state.

Despite the bureau’s excellent work with farmers, landowners, towns, and residents, Iowa’s forests, trees, and waterways are in trouble. For the first time since the 1970s, Iowa’s forests are being depleted faster than they are being replanted; they have lost 192,000 acres from 2009-2013 according to the U.S. Forest Service’s most recent five-year inventory.

Compounding this rapid loss of forests is an already growing threat from invasive pests and an increasingly costly problem with water quality for drinking standards and recreation. Perhaps now more than ever, Iowa needs to focus on investing in the health and sustainability of its forest and tree resources.

Iowa has had more great conservation leaders than any other state in the country. For example, “Tama Jim” Wilson wrote the letter authorizing the U.S. Forest Service; “Ding” Darling from Sioux City — a famous editorial cartoonist for the Register & Tribune — was unsurpassed as a national advocate for wildlife programs; Aldo Leopold from Burlington was the father of game management and the land ethic; John Lacey from Oskaloosa authored the first and still most powerful federal law treaty to control illegal trade in wildlife and now timber; Buffalo Bill Cody from LeClaire was quite a conservationist in his own right; and Norman Borlaug of Cresco was the leader of the green revolution, helping feed millions with better crop varieties.

As an Iowa State forestry graduate and Iowa native, I am proud of Iowa’s great tradition and national leadership in forestry and natural resources. By dissolving the bureau, I worry that this legacy will be diminished as quality foresters choose to go elsewhere, and as programs and services are undermined and become targets for future cuts.

With our forests, trees and water supplies facing mounting threats, Iowa needs a dedicated team of forestry professionals to help save these essential resources. Join the Society of American Foresters and me in urging Gov. Kim Reynolds to reverse this decision and restore the bureau and its leadership.

• Frederick Cubbage is a 1974 Iowa State University graduate, professor in the North Carolina State University Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources and co-director, Southern Forest Resource Assessment Consortium

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