Senator Also Resumes Press for Forest Service Action on Okhissa Lake Land Transfer
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today encouraged continued interagency cooperation on the delivery of COVID-19 economic recovery resources appropriated by Congress last year for timber harvesting and hauling businesses.
Hyde-Smith discussed the recovery program with U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen at a Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing titled “Rethinking Resiliency: Budgeting for the Future of Forest Management.”
“In good years, forest-related economic activity in Mississippi can generate more than 60,000 jobs and nearly $3 billion in income. Like many other states, production was down in Mississippi in 2020, in large part due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hyde-Smith said. “I hope continued cooperation between the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture means we can get much-needed relief to timber harvesting and hauling businesses as quickly as possible.”
Hyde-Smith reiterated her support for the distribution of $200 million provided by Congress in December to provide relief to timber harvesting and timber hauling businesses that experienced revenue losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Christiansen, who outlined Forest Service cooperation with the Farm Service Agency (FSA), estimated that recovery payments from the FY2021 Omnibus and COVID Relief and Response Act could be available this summer.
“USDA, writ large, we take this very serious to get this relief out,” Christiansen said. “We’re subject matter experts working with FSA because the vehicle is through their processes, of course, to allocate all of the recovery across the ag sector, but much inclusive of the forest sector, as well. It will be sometime mid- to late summer that those monies will be available, as I understand it.”
Also at the Wednesday hearing, Christiansen told Hyde-Smith the Forest Service “will certainly do everything we can with the right resources” to update the master plan for the Homochitto National Forest, which would help facilitate the transfer of 150-acres at Okhissa Lake for a rural economic development project.
Hyde-Smith secured the 2018 Farm Bill provision authorizing the Okhissa Lake property transfer to the Scenic Rivers Development Alliance.
“An updated Forest Service master plan for the Homochitto National Forest could complement Scenic River’s development plan in a significant way–additional hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, safe swimming areas, and many other things to attract visitors and tourism,” said Hyde-Smith.
The Senator sought the same commitment in April from the now confirmed Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, Ph.D.