Release No. 0228.11
Forest Service Press Office (202)205-1134
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Introduces a Framework and Map to Improve
the Health of America's Watersheds
Watersheds on national forests and grasslands are the source of 20
percent of the nation's drinking water supply
WASHINGTON, June 3, 2011-- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today
announced the release of a new map that characterizes the health and
condition of National Forest System lands in more than 15,000 watersheds
across the country. The U.S. Forest Service's Watershed Condition
Classification Map is the first step in the agency's Watershed Condition
and is the agency's first national assessment across all 193
million acres of National Forest lands. Vilsack made the announcement at
a USDA event in Washington highlighting the United Nation's
International Year of Forests.
"Clean, healthy forests are vital to our efforts to protect America's
fresh water supply," said Vilsack. "Our nation's economic health, and
the health of our citizens, depends on abundant, clean and reliable
sources of freshwater. The Watershed Condition Framework and map will
help provide economic and environmental benefits to residents of rural
The map establishes a baseline that will be used to establish priorities
for watershed restoration and maintenance. The national Watershed
Condition Framework establishes a consistent, comparable, and credible
process for characterizing, prioritizing, improving, and tracking the
health of watersheds on national forests and grasslands. The Framework
also builds added accountability and transparency into the Integrated
Resource Restoration program which is included in President Obama's
budget proposal for the next fiscal year.
The Framework uses three watershed condition classifications:
* Class 1 watersheds are considered healthy.
* Class 2 watersheds are relatively healthy, but may require
* Class 3 watersheds are those that are impaired, degraded or
Additional benefits to the Framework are the opportunities it provides
to current and future partners in watershed restoration and maintenance.
It also increases the public's awareness of their local watershed
conditions and the role they can play in improving them. The Forest
Service expects that as the map gains more widespread use, it will
promote the department's "all-lands" approach to managing the nation's
forest and landscapes.
"Watershed restoration is not new to the Forest Service, but we now have
new capabilities to assess and prioritize where resources are most
needed," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "For the first
time, we are laying out a process to allow data from local assessments
to be collected, analyzed and evaluated to better understand existing
conditions and the specific needs for restoration and maintenance at the
The Forest Service, as custodian of national forests and
grasslands-which contain nearly 400,000 miles of streams, 3 million
acres of lakes, and many aquifer systems-provides drinking water for
more U.S. residents than any other entity. The Forest Service manages
habitat for more than 550 rare, threatened, and endangered aquatic
species and provides water-related recreation to more than 130 million
visitors each year. U.S. lakes and streams provide drinking water for
one in five Americans.
The Framework integrates well with both the proposed Land Management
Planning Rule and the agency's Climate Change Scorecard. All three
efforts require working with the public and partners to assess, monitor,
maintain and restore the health of forests and watersheds. The Framework
assists by providing key data that will help to prioritize resources.
The Forest Service expects to have national and regional Watershed
Condition Classification maps posted electronically on an agency Web
site early next week, with an interactive mapping tool available by the
end of the month, according to agency officials.
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health,
diversity, and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to
meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193
million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private
landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in
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