Lawmakers question Vilsack about USDA climate spending

By Marc Heller | 03/22/2024 06:43 AM EDT

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was on Capitol Hill for his first fiscal 2025 budget hearing this year.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack appearing before lawmakers Thursday. Francis Chung/POLITICO

The federal government is pouring more than $1 billion into planting and maintaining trees in towns and cities — but what kind of trees to plant is raising questions with one member of Congress.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) told Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday that her state needs help figuring out which trees will stand up to the changing climate over time, if this year’s relatively tame winter is any indication of what’s to come.

“We’re told we’re now the ecosystem of Arkansas,” Kaptur said at a House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. “This is the first time the Great Lakes have not frozen in my lifetime.”


Kaptur’s comments touched on an unfolding challenge for urban foresters as the warming climate changes the maps that depict first and last frost dates, minimum winter temperatures and average precipitation. With their abundance of concrete and asphalt that cause heat islands, cities are especially vulnerable to the changes.