An official with the United States Department of Agriculture returns to Washington after visiting the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri.

Deputy USDA Undersecretary Jay Jensen says he needed to get out of Washington and into the woods, specifically tour the Mark Twain National Forest and those businesses which make a living off the forest. Jensen says he’s impressed with what Missouri has done with $10 million dollars from the federal economic stimulus package.

“I got a chance to go see a number of projects. Some of them dealing with what we call our Fuels to Schools program where actually about $6 million invested in six local schools to help them convert their existing heating facilities into bio-energy, using wood for energy,” Jensen tells the Missourinet.

Bio-mass became a big focus for Jensen. He says it shows much promise, but understands that business owners need assurances that if they invest in bio-mass a market will develop.

“That’s where bio-energy and bio-mass really offers some opportunities,” Jensen says. “If we can get things like stewardship contracting off the ground and make it work here in the Mark Twain and in Missouri. We need to make that happen all across the country. We’re learning some great lessons right here in Missouri.”

Jensen says companies such as the Reed Lumber Mill in Potosi could benefit from a developing bio-mass market. The forest industry generates approximately $5 billion annually in Missouri, creating 36,000 jobs.

Jenson will also return to Washington with a report on the health of the Mark Twain National Forest. He says much concern has centered on the Red Oak Borer and while he says the forest is in good shape, he concedes it could be in better shape.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1:15 MP3]