In testimony before the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies today, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell prioritized the proposed FY 2013 Forest Service budget request in three themes: restoration, communities, and fire.
“To make the strategic investments to grow the economy and tackle the deficit, this budget makes difficult cuts to programs -- but our priorities are designed to respond to the needs of the American public,” Tidwell said.
“The budget request will engage communities and help Americans reconnect to the outdoors, expand on recreation benefits and create a wide range of opportunities for economic expansion to retain and create jobs. It also fosters partnering with communities and cooperating agencies to reduce the threat of wildland fires to people, property and watersheds.”
The FY 2013 President’s Budget requests $4.86 billion for the Forest Service, an increase of less than one-half of one percent over the 2012 appropriated level.
With the threats from insects and disease, wildfire, urban development, and impacts of a changing climate, active restoration is a key component of the agency’s FY 2013 budget strategy.
“By making targeted investments in the landscapes most at risk, we can restore healthy, resilient forests and grasslands, provide recreational and hunting access, and provide forest products for the benefit of all Americans,” he testified. “Our FY 2013 budget request is designed to do just that by working with partners across borders and boundaries at a landscape level.”
“Based on our current efforts, we know that increasing collaboration with local communities can move conservation efforts from a scale of thousands of acres to hundreds of thousands of acres. The President’s FY 2013 Budget strategically allocates resources to support exemplary local stewardship and collaboration models and to catalyze new partnerships and innovations,” Tidwell said.
The Forest Service is accelerating the pace of restoration already underway and initiating increased work on the ground to achieve healthier lands, improved water quality, safer communities and stronger rural economies, Tidwell explained.
One example Tidwell gave was the Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, a high-priority effort already underway with many individual projects that have an integrated, collaborative, landscape-scale focus. The program is creating job stability by supplying a reliable wood and biomass supply for forest products and bioenergy production while also improving forest health and wildlife habitat and reducing fire suppression costs in overgrown forests.
“Through accelerated restoration and strategic partnerships, we will accomplish more work that yields benefits for all Americans, while sustaining forest and grassland ecosystems for future generations. In these tough economic times, this budget balances spending on priorities against reductions,” Tidwell declared. “It also reflects efficiency and improvements to reduce our administrative costs.”
Communities continue to be a priority for the Forest Service in FY 2013. Tidwell reiterated his agency’s commitment to engaging forest-dependent communities to reconnect with the outdoors, to expanding recreation benefits, and to harnessing economic opportunities that support diverse employment.
As part of the President’s FY 2013 budget, the agency is requesting reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 for five years.
In order to maintain forest-related jobs and economic opportunities for rural communities the Forest Service is also requesting permanent authority for stewardship contracting, Tidwell told the subcommittee.
The proposed budget would maintain the agency’s capabilities for community protection and wildfire suppression and would direct fire management resources toward the highest priority areas while maximizing cost-effectiveness. By working proactively to re-establish fire-adapted ecosystems, Tidwell explained, costs with catastrophic wildfire can be reduced. The budget request also includes $24 million to pay for the increased costs of modernizing the firefighting large airtanker fleet.
In the proposed budget, strategic investments in facilities and infrastructure maintenance will reduce the agency’s environmental footprint and save money by lowering energy costs. The request proposes deferring new facilities construction when other cost-effective and reasonable options exist. To ensure the protection of water quality, the agency will emphasize replacing deficient bridges, upgrading stream crossings, and providing a transportation system to and from timber and stewardship project sites that support local jobs and our collaborative restoration priorities.
There is a planned $100 million reduction in general costs over the course of FY 2013 and FY 2014. Tidwell estimated that his agency’s workforce will be reduced by nearly 1,500 full-time equivalents between FY 2011 and FY 2013; a reduction within its average annual attrition rate. He also identified reduced spending levels in travel, information technology, printing, vehicles and promotional items.
Tidwell reminded the subcommittee that millions of Americans have forest-related jobs, from forest restoration work to recreation use, wood products, grazing, and energy and mineral development. He said that in 2010, the National Forests attracted over 170 million annual visitors, and recreation use, which alone sustained nearly 223,000 jobs while contributing $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy.