WASHINGTON, APRIL 2, 2014 AT 2:15 PM EDT - In testimony today before the House Appropriations Committee, Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell cited three key areas of focus for the FY 2015 President’s Budget of $4.77 billion for the Forest Service: restoring resilient landscapes, building thriving communities, and managing wildland fires.
“The budget calls for a fundamental change in how wildfire suppression is funded. It proposes a new and fiscally responsible funding strategy for wildland fire, contributes to long-term economic growth, and continues our efforts to achieve the greatest benefits for the taxpayer at the least cost,” Tidwell said. “This budget will enable us to more effectively reduce fire risk, manage landscapes more holistically, and increase resiliency of the nation’s forests and rangelands as well as the communities that border them.”
On restoring landscapes
The Forest Service has launched an initiative to accelerate restoration across shared landscapes. The Accelerated Restoration Initiative builds on Integrated Resource Restoration (IRR), the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP), the 2012 planning rule, and other restoration-related programs and initiatives to pick up the pace of ecological restoration while creating more jobs in rural communities. Investing in IRR in FY 2015 is expected to result in 2,700,000 watershed acres treated, 3.1 billion board feet of timber volume sold, approximately 2,000 miles of road decommissioned, and 3,262 miles of stream habitat restored or enhanced. An estimated 26 watersheds will be restored to a higher condition class in FY 2015. All of the current 23 CFLRP projects are on track to meet their 10-year goals, and to date, more than 588,461 acres of wildlife habitat have been improved, while generating 814 million board feet of timber and 1.9 million green tons of biomass for energy production and other uses.
On building thriving communities
The Forest Service works to build thriving communities across the Nation by helping urban communities reconnect with the outdoors, by expanding the benefits that both rural and urban residents get from outdoor recreation, and by providing communities with the many economic benefits that result from sustainable multiple-use management of the national forests and grasslands.
The Forest Service is dedicated to serving tens of millions of recreation visitors each year. Rural communities rely on the landscapes around them for hunting, fishing, and various amenities; the places they live are vital to their identity and social well-being. We maintain these landscapes for the character, settings, and sense of place that people have come to expect, such as popular trail corridors and viewsheds.
Over 83 percent of America’s citizens now live in urban areas. For most Americans, their main experience of the outdoors comes from their local tree-lined streets, greenways, and parks, not to mention their own backyards. Fortunately, America has over 100 million acres of urban forests, an area the size of California. Through the Urban and Community Forestry Program, the Forest Service has benefited more than 7,000 communities, home to 196 million Americans, helping people reap the benefits they get from trees, including energy conservation, flood and pollution control, climate change mitigation, and open spaces for improved quality of life.
On managing wildland fires
The FY 2015 Budget proposes a new funding strategy for managing wildland fires. It proposes funding catastrophic wildland fires similar to other disasters. Funded in part by additional budget authority provided through a budget cap adjustment for wildfire suppression, the budget proposes discretionary funding for wildland fire suppression at a level equal to 70 percent of the estimated 10-year average suppression costs, which reflects the level of spending associated with suppression of 99 percent of wildfires. This strategy provides increased certainty in addressing growing fire suppression needs, better safeguards non-suppression programs from transfers that diminish their effectiveness, and allows us to stabilize and invest in programs that more effectively restore forested landscapes, treat forests for the increasing effects of climate change, and prepare communities for future wildfires.
Through the Hazardous Fuels Program, the Forest Service controls fuels by removing buildups of dead vegetation and by thinning overly dense forests that can be hazardous to lives, homes, communities, and wildland resources. From FY 2001 to FY 2013, the Forest Service treated about 33 million acres, an area larger than Mississippi.
“We can achieve these priorities through partnerships and collaboration. Our budget priorities highlight the need to strengthen service through cooperation, collaboration, and public-private partnerships that leverage our investments to reach shared goals,” Tidwell said. “Through strategic partnerships, we can accomplish more work while also yielding more benefits for all Americans, for the sake of all generations to come.”
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.