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USDA, MS sign historic agreement to improve forest conditions

A Shared Stewardship agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the State of Mississippi was signed Wednesday during a virtual ceremony.

USDA Under Secretary of Agriculture James Hubbard and Mississippi State Forester Russell Bozeman signed the memorandum of understanding for the state.

This agreement establishes a framework for federal and state agencies to collaborate better, focus on accomplishing mutual goals, further common interests and effectively respond to the increasing ecological challenges and natural resource concerns in Mississippi.

“Through shared stewardship, the Forest Service and Mississippi have unprecedented opportunities to do the right work in the right places at the right scale,” said Hubbard. “Working together, we can better decide where to make the investments needed to achieve the cross-boundary outcomes desired by all.”

This new agreement centers on USDA’s commitment to work with states and other partners to use the best available science to identify high-priority forests that need treatment and to ensure the long-term sustainability of public and private lands.

“As an important resource and industry in our state, our trees and forests touch all Mississippian’s lives in one way or another. Shared stewardship promotes accountability with our partners to manage natural resources that are entrusted to us,” said Bozeman. “This agreement not only formalizes our existing relationships with federal and state partners, it serves as a milestone, reinforcing the Mississippi Forest Commission’s commitment to ensure our state’s forests are viable and available for future generations. Healthy trees produce healthy lives.”

This Shared Stewardship agreement will focus on projects that manage and reduce threats to forest and ecosystem health, assist communities in planning for and reducing wildfire risk, improve air and water quality, conserve and enhance fish and wildlife habitat and connect people to trees, forests and other natural resources.

Mississippi became the eighth state in the South and 24th nationally to sign such an agreement to strengthen partnerships within the state to increase the scope and scale of critical forest treatments that support communities and improve forest conditions.

The agreement will also be signed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Aurelia Skipwith at a later date. The memorandum of understanding can be found at www.fs.usda.gov/managing-land/shared-stewardship.