08.05.21

Ranking Member Boozman’s Opening Statement at Hearing to Consider the Nomination of Dr. Homer L. Wilkes to be Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following opening remarks, as prepared, from the hearing to consider the nomination of Dr. Homer L. Wilkes to be under secretary for natural resources and environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA):

Good morning. Today we welcome Dr. Homer Wilkes from Mississippi, to the committee, as we consider his nomination to be under secretary for the natural resources and environment, or NRE, mission area at the Department of Agriculture.

Our colleagues from Mississippi, Senator Roger Wicker and Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, will give a proper introduction of Dr. Wilkes, but he comes to us after serving USDA for 41 years in a variety of senior roles and positions. Dr. Wilkes has also served in the U.S. Navy Reserves for many years. We are grateful for your service to our country.

 

Dr. Wilkes’ dedication to service and the leadership he has demonstrated over the course of his career is the reason this is not the first time he has been nominated for this position. Putting family first, he took his name out of contention for the under secretary position in 2009, choosing to remain in Mississippi.

I deeply respect making your family your priority, and I am pleased that you are now ready for the challenge of the office. I thank you for your willingness to serve because our nation’s forests are crucial to so many families in our rural communities.

Our nation’s forests and grasslands serve a variety of functions – habitat for wildlife, areas for outdoor recreation, grazing for our livestock, energy and mineral development and timber for a vibrant wood products industry, which by the way, sequesters carbon in wood products long beyond the natural life of the individual tree.

The lifecycle of planting trees, managing forests, harvesting timber and delivering this?commodity to a growing wood products industry is a “win-win” for everyone. Carbon is sequestered in trees, which is then stored in the products derived from those trees. Rural communities benefit from a wood products industry that convert trees to products we all use and depend on.

In Arkansas, we are seeing some of these exciting innovations of mass timber. For instance, the University of Arkansas’s Adohi Hall is a 202,000 sq. ft. student residence constructed almost entirely of mass timber. It is one of the largest mass timber buildings in the U.S., estimating to store the equivalent of over 3,000 metric tons of carbon.

Also, Walmart is constructing its new corporate headquarters in Bentonville, with 1.7 million cubic feet of mass timber harvested and manufactured in Arkansas. As a result of that project, Structurlam will be opening a new facility in Conway, Arkansas that will create over 100 new jobs in the state.

These projects are a microcosm of the “win-win” opportunities tied to healthy, well-managed working forests and the communities they support.

However, the success of keeping our forests healthy and working – with carbon sequestration, wood products, recreation, wildlife and resources – is only as strong as our forest management.

I am deeply concerned about the future of our forests because they are so vitally important to so many stakeholders. Multiple years of delayed management and neglect have left our forests vulnerable to insects, diseases and catastrophic wildfire. Which is why re-energizing efforts to actively manage our forests – from hazardous fuel reduction to restoring lands damaged by fires or diseases or pests – is critical in keeping our forests working and healthy for generations to come.

If confirmed, Dr. Wilkes will be taking the helm at NRE and overseeing the Forest Service in the middle of what is shaping up to be another record wildfire season with over 1.8 million acres burned on over 90 large wildfires. His leadership will be critical in mitigating the impacts of this fire season and ensuring the Forest Service has the right tools to do the right work on the right acres in the months and years to come.

Dr. Wilkes has immense expertise at NRCS, in leveraging their programs and building partnerships with a variety of stakeholders. Throughout Dr. Wilkes’ career, he has engaged farmers, ranchers, land-owners and rural communities in decision-making and program implementation.

If confirmed, I am hopeful Dr. Wilkes will bring the same qualities and characteristics demonstrated during his tenure at NRCS to his role as Under Secretary at NRE, as that type of engagement is crucial to keeping our forests healthy and working.

If confirmed, I trust Congress will also be able to work with Dr. Wilkes and rely on his professionalism and candor as he leads NRE in its important work.

Along those lines, I ask you Dr. Wilkes – if confirmed – to be responsive and prompt in answering our questions and providing assistance to this committee. As we have seen before, the committee’s best work is done when working together in collaboration and with the benefit of technical assistance from the department.

Dr. Wilkes, congratulations on your nomination. We look forward to hearing from you today.

With that, I yield back to Chairwoman Stabenow.