Conservation group AMERICAN FORESTS charges Administrations professed support for “cooperative conservation” masks detrimental cuts
WASHINGTON, DC, 1 March 2005 — President Bush’s FY 2006 budget proposals promise support for “cooperative conservation,” but the non-profit conservation group AMERICAN FORESTS sees a very different message in the numbers. The President’s budget offers broad initiatives, but cloaked in titles like the “Strengthening America’s Communities Initiative” are significant cuts for programs that support collaborative efforts between the federal government and urban and ruralcommunities.
Many programs in the departments of Agriculture and Interior that have been targeted for elimination or reduction have provided grants and assistance to communities for conservation purposes, wildfire protection, and economic development. The Administration says these programs are low performing, duplicate other federal programs, or are not a federal responsibility.Two examples are the U.S. Forest Service’s Economic Action Program (EAP) and the Bureau of Land Management’s Jobs-in-the-Woods program, which are essential to community collaboration, according to AMERICAN FORESTS. The Administration proposes to terminate EAP, which provides technical and financial assistance to improve the economies of rural communities in forested areas, because it “duplicates other rural development programs.” In our community partners’ experience, however, other USDA rural development programs have not been helpful to forest-based communities. EAP is alone in providing flexible, small grants for capacity building and innovative business development.
Jobs-in-the-Woods, which provides training and job opportunities for unemployed forest workers in the Northwest, is slated for elimination because it “is no longer necessary.” The transition from traditional timber management to ecosystem management in the Northwest, however, is still in progress, and new land management approaches, worker skills, and innovative business enterprises are still needed to make the transition to ecosystem management or restoration areality.
A recent Administration news release seeks to demonstrate support for cooperative conservation through the President’s FY06 budget proposals. Yet the Forest Service’s case for its support of collaboration and partnership rings hollow. The agency’s State and Private Forestry programs, which generally support cooperation with state and local governments, tribes, nongovernmental organizations, and private landowners, have been cut 13 percent from last year (if the additional $49 million in cuts from supplemental funds were included, the total reduction would be $88 million, or a whopping 25percent).
The Administration’s news release on cooperative conservation also mentions the Forest Service’s Wildland Fire Management programs in forest health, state fire assistance, and volunteer fire assistance, but those programs, too, have been reduced from last year-by a total of $24 million, or 33percent.
Finally, although wildfire suppression costs remain a major concern, the President’s budget fails to make a serious attempt to address them. Over the past several years these costs have significantly exceeded the funds appropriated for them, forcing the Forest Service and BLM to transfer money from other programs with devastating effects on communities and management objectives. Last year American Forests joined a broad coalition that recommended, and Congress created, a $500 million account from which funds could be used if appropriated funds were depleted. The Forest Service and BLM used nearly the entire amount last year. The President’s FY 2006 budget includes only $52 million for the Forest Service and $16 million for BLM; nowhere near the amounts that will likely to beneeded.
AMERICAN FORESTS believes citizen involvement and the leverage of private investment are key to protecting the natural capital of trees and forests. By reducing or eliminating so many programs important for communities, the President’s budget works against both concepts.
“We will continue to monitor the budget process and work with our community partners to present information to Congress and the Administration in an effort to restore funds for many of these much-needed programs,” said Deborah Gangloff, executive director of AMERICAN FORESTS. Without changes, she added, President Bush’s proposed budget will not make good on its stated promise to “promote conservation partnerships and to empower local participation in programs and projects that protect and conserve natural resources and the environment.”
AMERICAN FORESTS helps people improve the environment with trees and forests. We are a world leader in tree planting for environmental restoration. We are a pioneer in advancing the science and practice of urban forestry and a primary communicator of the benefits of trees and forests. AMERICAN FORESTS helps people identify, recognize and preserve their special trees, and our community- based initiatives help people plan and implement local actions to restore and maintain healthy ecosystems and communities. American Forests is on the World Wide Web at www.americanforests.org