Forest service budget in jeopardy
Perhaps you’ve written a letter to your members of Congress this year asking them to adequately fund Forest Service recreation budgets and repair of storm damage on these lands. If so, you are probably wondering why the needed money hasn’t been allocated yet.
We wish we had better news for you.
The Bush administration and Congress have been playing a slow-motion game of chicken over domestic spending legislation. Congress has proposed spending $22 billion more than budgeted by the administration in its request document. This includes, among many other things, an increase in Forest Service and National Park Service recreation programs. Because no budget documents have been passed by the House and Senate yet, for the past several months the federal government has been operating on continuing resolutions which allocate funds to agencies at previous fiscal year levels. This creates a hardship for agencies, since unexpected needs cannot be met by new money, and continuing resolutions do not keep pace with the increasing cost of doing business.
Congress blinked first. According to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, congressional leaders will settle for an $11 billion increase over administration requests. The administration promptly shot down the congressional proposal. Even in the event that this $11 billion increase was approved by the President, the Forest Service would still see sharp cuts in programs, since a 50% across the board cut would not fall equally upon all heads.
What’s more, the Bush administration proposed a sharp cut in Forest Service spending compared to the fiscal year 2007 budget. If Congress bites and cuts the House-approved National Forest System line item by the proposed 50%, the agency could lose $82.5 million.
The Forest Service budget is currently located in HR 2634, which is the Interior and related agencies bill.
Here are some of the programs that would be on the chopping block
- National Forest Recreation would receive a $20.3 million cut in the House bill and a $16.75 million in the Senate bill.
- National Forest Trails would be reduced in the House by $6.2 million, and by $4.9 million in the Senate.
- State Side of Land and Water Conservation Funding (LWCF), which supplies important funds for land acquisitions, would by slashed by $15 million in the Senate version of the budget and by $25 million in the House.
- Federal Side of LWCF, which has the same goals as the state funds, would see a $44 million reduction in the Senate budget bill and $45.7 million reduction in the House.
- There is no word yet on the fate of a $65 million appropriation that Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA) has been advocating. These funds would be used to decommission problem roads on National Forests, as well as repair some damaged roads and trails.
These cuts will have real and substantial impacts on hikers. The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is still digging out from 2003 storm damage, and just started to deal with 2006 damage last summer. We don’t yet know how much, if any damage was caused by this week’s torrents.
What we do know is grave. In the absence of a real and ongoing federal commitment to trails, beloved and damaged routes in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie, the Gifford Pinchot and the Olympics will not be hikable for some time to come. Damaged trails that go without repairs for several seasons will become brushy quagmires. And if trail maintenance crews cannot access intact trails due to road washouts, the quality of hiking trails across the board will begin to degrade.
December 17, 2008 the House of Representatives approved a $515.7 billion domestic spending measure that shaves billions from spending levels desired by Democrats. The legislation, which passed 253 to 154, funds every agency of government but the Defense Department for fiscal 2008. While we have not had time to review the full budget bill Forest Service budget highlighted above is a close approximation of funding levels. The Repairing and Decommissioning Legacy Roads proposal that Congressman Dicks was advocating for received -- $39 million nationally, a large portion of which is hoped will be spent in Washington State. The Senate will likely take up the issue of funding today, December 18.
What You Can Do
Washington’s Senators needs to hear from you! Please click here to find the contact information for Senators Murray and Cantwell. Call, write, or email them and let them know how important our National Forest trails are to you. Make sure to thank them for their hard work on behalf of hikers—and let them know that you support them in their efforts to restore funding to National Forests and keep the House-approved funding levels in HR 2634.
For more information on how to write letters and how to get more involved in advocacy for trails, contact WTA’s outreach coordinator Kindra Ramos at (206) 625-1367 or by email at email@example.com.