Kentucky's forests could face as much danger from humans as any of the insects that invade them if funding isn't maintained in the Farm Bill, according to one Kentucky tree farmer.
Charles D. Williams of Munfordville is helping with a grassroots campaign to raise awareness of Kentucky's nearly half-million acres of forests.
The devastation could come if humans fail to maintain needed funding. So Williams - who owns nearly 1,000 acres of woodland - and others are writing letters to newspapers around the country and lobbying Congress about the need for forest protection. An attorney by trade, Williams also has lobbied the state for stronger laws against timber trespassing.
Williams said most of Kentucky's forest land is in private hands, including his own property, and farmers rely on certain federally funded programs to maintain their livelihood.
For instance, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources funding was used in 2009 to help clear trees that were downed on fence rows and roads after the ice storm, he said.
Forestry conservation programs make up only a small portion of Farm Bill funds. Those funds, Williams said, are matched by farmers' dollars and sweat equity. But the Farm Bill, because of the payments it provides large-scale farmers, has been often maligned in today's political arena.
Williams said he has gotten support from U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green.
"Based on the discussions that have been occurring, there will likely be some sort of reduction in funding to conservation programs," said Leah MacSwords, director of the state's Division of Forestry.
Those conservation programs include best management practices for agriculture, forestry, wildlife and grasslands.
MacSwords said the reduction in payments for commodities such as soybeans, corn and wheat has been discussed for a long time.
"And now you have (under discussion) conservation programs where payment is made for activities that landowners do to protect the soil and water," she said. "What's important, from a forestry perspective, is that there is work that needs to be done to get rid of dead and dying trees and invasive plants that hinder the forest. And that is a lot of work. The hope is that these conservation payments will help landowers by providing a little bit of money so they can hire work to help have it done. They can't do it on their own."
Williams said the conservation funds are small, but still are a benefit.
Kentucky farmers received about $26.65 million over the past two fiscal years for conservation programs, according to Christy Morgan, an analyst for USDA Natural Resources in Lexington. Natural Resources administers the funds that include money for environmental quality incentives, wildlife habitat and conservation security and stewardship.
The payments not only benefit landowners, but communities as a whole.
"Good, healthy forests provide good, clean water and air and a lot of recreational opportunities," MacSwords said.