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Senators Oppose funding for Forest Service LWCF

From the Federal Parks & Recreation Bulletin


As appropriations season approaches, seven Republicans senators June 26 called for zeroing out Land and Water Conservation (LWCF) funding for the Forest Service in fiscal year 2015.

Instead, the senators, led by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), said the Senate subcommittee on Interior appropriations should put all available money into operations. The senators are particularly concerned about obtaining money to cope with the invasion of the bark beetle and to fight fires.

“In order to adequately address the bark beetle and wildfire devastation as well as other management needs, Congress should ensure that the Forest Service prioritize limited resources to adequately manage the lands for which it is currently responsible, rather (than) continue to acquire additional property,” they wrote to subcommittee chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and ranking minority member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

The seven senators also put in a pitch for timber sales. “Timber harvests are a proven successful management tool that increase forest health, contribute $2.7 billion to the economy, and provide 16.5 jobs for every million board feet harvested,” they said.

While seven senators sounds like a lot, 51 other senators who support LWCF wrote Reed and Murkowski earlier this spring in support of LWCF. Led by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) the bipartisan LWCF advocates said, “The entire suite of LWCF programs protect natural resource lands, outdoor recreation opportunities and working forests at the local, state and federal levels, ensuring that critical wildlife habitat, hunting and fishing access, state and local parks, Civil War battlefields, productive forests and other important lands are protected for current and future generations.”

They added, “As you begin the process of drafting your FY 2015 bill, we respectfully request much needed funding for these critical programs, particularly as LWCF is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015. We ask that you include a strong investment in LWCF and Forest Legacy that will support public land conservation and ensure access to the outdoors for all Americans.”

LWCF critics would probably do better to concentrate their fire on the House, where the House subcommittee on Interior appropriations approved no money for LWCF in fiscal 2014. And the Republican-controlled House has consistently found fault with LWCF.

For instance the House April 10 passed a Congressional budget that calls on appropriators to “focus on eliminating the maintenance backlog before moving to acquire additional lands.” Further, the House-passed budget (H Con Res 96) would have authorizing committees consider disposing of existing federal land, rather than acquire more property. The budget says the House “supports examining federal land to see where cost savings can be achieved by selling unneeded acreage in the open market.”

Among federal land management agencies the Forest Service faces a special budget crisis because of the billions of dollars required to fight forest fires.

The Obama administration’s fiscal 2015 budget request recommends $51 million in LWCF acquisitions for the Forest Service, compared to $43.5 million in fiscal 2014.

That’s dwarfed by the agency’s fire budget. For the service in fiscal 2015 the administration proposes an appropriation of $2.265 billion for regular wildfire programs, compared to a fiscal 2014 appropriation of $2.162 billion. The administration would eliminate an emergency fire fighting account called FLAME that put up $315 million in fiscal 2014. Instead the budget would pay for emergency fires above a baseline outside of regular appropriations through the new disaster account.

LWCF is scheduled to expire at the end of fiscal 2015 after a 50-year run. The Obama administration has for the last two fiscal years recommended that Congress guarantee LWCF $900 million per year in perpetuity, drawing on new levies on the energy industry. For fiscal 2015 the administration requested $187 million in regular appropriations for federal land acquisition and $48 million for state grants from the fund.

Former Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced legislation (S 338) last year that would also extend LWCF at $900 million per year in guaranteed money. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is reportedly considering a package of legislation that would reauthorize LWCF in combination with reauthorizing county assistance programs such as Secure Rural Schools and payments-in-lieu of taxes.

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