WASHINGTON, DC, June 4, 2011-- USDA has released 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 Framework, and is the agency's first national assessment across all 193 million acres of National Forest lands.
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.
"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 communities."
The Framework uses three watershed condition classifications:
- Class 1 watersheds are considered healthy.
- Class 2 watersheds are relatively healthy, but may require restoration work.
- Class 3 watersheds are those that are impaired, degraded or damaged.
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 national level."