09/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Putting the Keystone Back on Our Wildlands Legacy

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack just delivered on President Obama's campaign pledge to restore the protections for America's wild forests that George Bush tried to strip away. Earlier this year, Vilsack moved to personally review all proposed roads or logging projects in the roadless portions of the national forests -- some 58 million acres of the best of what remains of wild America. In a Seattle speech,  the Secretary declared that the Obama administration would not appeal a recent 9th Circuit opinion restoring the roadless rule in most of the states, but would appeal a decision by Judge Brimmer in Wyoming blocking the rule in that state.

But Vilsack went further than making it clear that the administration now seeks to restore the Clinton-era roadless protections. He also declared that his agency would rewrite the rules governing the national forests, accepting a June Court decision to throw out Bush-era rules that stripped forests of the protection provided by reviewing their management plans for impacts on endangered species.

Vilsack acknowledged for the first time that climate change and fragmentation are a serious threat to the health of our forests. "I'm here to tell you we have our own deforestation problem right here in the U.S. of A.," he said. "Just keeping forests as forests remains a significant challenge." He promised to manage the forests to increase their resilience to the threat of climate change, saying that 40 million acres are at risk over the next decade.

My friend California congressman Sam Farr used to say that the conflict over the national forests was between politicians who liked their forests vertical, and those who wanted them horizontal. Secretary Vilsack and President Obama have made it clear -- they're standing tall for forests that keep standing tall for us.