USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment visits Wisconsin

Robert Bonnie, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, visited FPL last week. His trip to Wisconsin also included a visit to the U.S. Forest Service Eastern Region offices in Milwaukee and visits with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board and Milwaukee Public Radio.

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FPL chemist Alan Rudie (left) and USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie discussing cellulose nanotechnology in the FPL Nanocellulose Pilot Plant.

Mr. Bonnie addressed national and regional leadership personnel while at FPL and received a comprehensive tour of the FPL facilities.

“It was our great pleasure to host Mr. Bonnie,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Products Laboratory and Northern Research Station. “We believe deeply in the important work we are doing here at FPL and feel fortunate to have the support of (USDA) Secretary Vilsack and the Under Secretary’s office as we collectively strive to advance our contemporary conservation mission.”

One project that left a lasting impression on Bonnie and the assembled cast, as described in a Wisconsin State Journal feature story, highlighted a unique air cannon used to propel 2 x 4 pieces of lumber at F5 tornado velocity to test the strength of wooden storm shelter wall structures. In light of recent  severe weather across the nation’s mid-section and South, Bonnie noted that this research is “critically important” for directly providing an affordable means for safe shelter in tornado-prone areas.

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USDA Under Secretary Bonnie (left) with FPL engineer Bob Falk discussing the design of severe weather safe rooms using affordable wood components.

Bonnie sat down with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board to discuss a range of issues affecting Wisconsin and the nation. “The impact of climate change is one of the three big issues in fighting fires, especially in the West,” Bonnie told board members.

The Journal Sentinel board posted an editorial supporting the recent National Climate Assessment report, stating: “The fund for fighting fires is estimated to be $500 million short for the coming season, and while the federal government will find that money, it may have to be taken from other resources, including forest management in Wisconsin. A more permanent solution is needed; proposals in Congress to provide a better way of funding efforts to fight a growing number of fires deserve support.”

Bonnie also visited Milwaukee Public Radio station WUWM (89.7 FM) where he spoke about climate change, Forest Service wildfire suppression budgets and the need for a new funding approach, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. His segment starts at about 13 minutes into the program.