USFS budget emphasizes collaborative planning and conservation

Posted: Apr 15, 2013

Written by

Phil Taylor, E&E
Burn piles

President Obama's budget request for the Forest Service includes full funding for a popular collaborative restoration program and seeks increased funding for land acquisitions and private land easements.

The agency's $4.9 billion request is about the same as current funding levels.

It includes nearly $40 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program, about level with current funding, and a new $10 million program to build partnerships to protect municipal watersheds from destructive wildfires.

It also calls for $60 million in discretionary funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to secure easements that preserve working private forests, a $6 million increase over current levels, and $58 million in discretionary funding for land acquisitions, which is a $5 million increase over current levels. For the first time, the budget also calls for nearly $60 million in mandatory funding for both programs.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the public has demanded conservation of national forests, but Republicans at a hearing today before the House Natural Resources Committee said such money should be shifted into forest management.

The Obama budget again requests that several budget items, including hazardous fuel removals, stream restorations, timber sales, and road and trail improvements, be combined into a single Integrated Resource Restoration program.

Congress in late 2011 authorized the IRR program on a pilot scale, but the Forest Service would like it to be expanded nationally. The pilot project last year protected 800,000 acres from the threat of catastrophic wildfire, the agency said earlier this week (Greenwire, April 8).

The Forest Service budget also calls on Congress to provide a five-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools program, which compensates timber-dependent counties but expired last September. The budget does not appear to specify a way to pay for the proposed mandatory funding.

The budget also urges Congress to reauthorize stewardship contracting, which allows the agency to use revenues from timber sales to fund forest restoration projects like vegetation management, road repairs and recreational improvements. The authority, which enjoys broad bipartisan support, expires in September.

The budget also proposes a $1 administrative fee per animal, per month, to graze cattle on public lands, a proposal that environmentalists and budget watchdogs say is badly needed but that is strongly opposed by stockgrowers groups and Republicans in Congress.

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