Washington, USA — Congressional Democrats dismissed as “unworkable”the first budget request of new Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell.
Kimbell, the first woman to head the Forest Service, came under fire Tuesdayas she defended President Bush’s request for the next budget year, which dealsher agency a spending cut and eliminates more than 2,100 jobs.
“This is a rough and, in my view, a very unworkable budget,” saidRep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., chairman of the House Interior Appropriationssubcommittee.
“I feel sorry for you, having to support this ‘let’s pretend’ budget,”added Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the overall spending panel.
Kimbell, who formerly supervised national forests in Idaho, Montana and theDakotas, began her new job Feb. 5 the same day Bush announced his budgetplan for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
“It’s difficult,” Kimbell acknowledged after the hearing. “Therewill be some real challenges.”
Bush’s $4.1 billion budget request represents a 1.6 percent cut fromestimated spending for the current year and is down nearly 4 percent from 2006.
Even so, it would boost spending to fight forest fires by 23 percent to $911million a recognition that firefighting costs have topped $1 billion in fourof the past seven years. Lawmakers from both parties have criticized the ForestService in the past for under-budgeting for fire expenses, noting that money isoften taken from other accounts to pay for fire suppression.
Still, Dicks said the budget request has “big problems.” While itincreases spending for fire suppression, it cuts money for fire preparedness,work done to thin overcrowded forest to reduce the risk of fire.
“We all know that to keep suppression costs down, initial attack isvital. Yet this budget proposes a $92 million reduction in preparedness, so morefires would escape and cause damage,” he said.
Dicks and other lawmakers also attacked an administration plan to sell morethan 200,000 acres of national forest land to help rural counties hurt bycutbacks in federal logging.
“I have grave doubts about this proposal and I wonder why something sosoundly rejected last year would appear again,” Dicks said.
Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., called the land sale plan “totallyunrealistic” and said, “It’s certainly not going to happen in thecurrent Congress.”
Kimbell and Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who directs U.S. forestpolicy, said the land sale plan makes several changes from last year. Mostimportantly, it would ensure than at least half the revenue from the sales wouldstay in the state where the land is sold. Officials made the change afterlawmakers complained that money from the sales would benefit other states.
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., told Rey the plan was “better than last year”but still problematic. She complained that more than 21,500 acres of the MarkTwain National Forest are set to be sold, with Missouri only receiving half theproceeds.