Thursday Opening Speech: How Forest Ecosystems Connect to Food, Energy, and Water

It’s a pleasure to be here. I commend you for advancing our knowledge of how food, energy, and water are connected. We at the Forest Service are deeply interested in the role that forests play in delivering all three, and I appreciate this opportunity for dialogue.

I am here to introduce Juergen Voegele from the World Bank, who will deliver the keynote address. But before I do, I would like to say a few words about how forests in the United States relate to food, energy, and water.

The United States has about 7.5 percent of the world’s forests, a little over 300 million hectares, or about a third of our land area. Our forest types run the gamut, from boreal forests in Alaska, to temperate forests from coast to coast, to the tropical forests of Hawaii and Puerto Rico. The United States is one of twelve countries that together account for 60 to 70 percent of the world’s total biodiversity, so our forests are really a resource for the entire world.

The Forest Service is the lead agency for forestry in the United States. As forestry leaders, we know the value of forests, but what we know doesn’t really matter. What matters is what society is actually willing to support in terms of land use decisions made and budgets passed. These policy decisions are largely made outside the forestry community.

So it is our job to inform the public and policymakers about the value of forests and their contributions to the economy, to the environment, and to national well-being. Our national well-being depends on the future of our food, energy, and water resources. And these depend, in turn, on the future of our forests. In my remaining time, I will briefly explain how.

Almost one of every six people on Earth directly depends on forests for their livelihoods, partly for food. In the United States, many native peoples and rural residents gather wild foods from forests, including game, fish, fruits, herbs, nuts, and mushrooms. Some people, including people who live in cities, harvest forest foods for sale.

Our farms depend on wild pollinators. Our farms also depend for pest control on insect predators such as bats, which are hugely important. These animals often require forest habitats.

We also have commercial agroforestry in the United States. Our agroforestry uses trees to support agriculture in five ways: alley cropping, forest farming, riparian forest buffers, silvopasture, and windbreaks. Agroforestry helps farmers and ranchers produce food while protecting soils and waters, conserving biodiversity and wildlife habitat, and generating feedstocks for renewable energy.

That brings me to energy. We use woody biomass from forests to produce power, heat, and liquid fuels, and these energy sources are renewable. Biofuels, including wood, will play a growing role as the world transitions away from fossil fuels. In 2014, for example, the United States exported 4.4 million short tons of wood pellets, mostly for generating electricity in Europe. By protecting headwaters, forests are also an important source of hydropower.

And that brings me to water, which is critical to all life. Water is our most important natural resource in the United States. Without it, we have no hope for food security. Forests filter and cool water while maintaining even flows. Fifty-three percent of our nation’s surface water supply originates on forest land. Together, public and private forest lands furnish water supplies for more than 180 million of our citizens.

Food, energy, water … these are just several kinds of the many ecosystem services that people get from forests in the United States. The value of ecosystem services flowing from our nation’s forests has been estimated to range from $96.5 billion to $5.7 trillion annually. That comes to a value of up to $17,857 for every one of our citizens each year.

If society wants to continue getting that value, then we need to make sound investments in our green infrastructure. We need to work through partnerships to sustain and restore the health, diversity, and productivity of our nation’s forests, for the benefit of generations to come.

And now it is my pleasure to introduce our keynote speaker. Juergen Voegele is the Senior Director of Agriculture Global Practice at the World Bank. He joined the Bank in 1991 and has served in many roles, including Director for Agriculture and Environmental Services in the Bank’s Sustainable Development Network; Sector Manager for Agriculture in the Bank’s Europe and Central Asia region; and Principal Agricultural Specialist and Rural Sector Coordinator in Beijing. Dr. Voegele led the acclaimed Loess Plateau watershed management project in China and helped shape the global agenda on agriculture and food security.

Dr. Voegele has also consulted for a number of agencies in various locations, including the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH, or German Company for International Collaboration, which goes by its German acronym GIZ, formerly GTZ. Dr. Voegele also consulted for the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, with assignments in the Caribbean, China, Myanmar, Niger, the Pacific Islands, and Togo.

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