Senate hearing focuses on Forest Service FY 2015 budget request

By Erin Voegele | May 05, 2014

The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies recently held a hearing on the U.S. Forest Service’s fiscal year 2015 budget request. The budget request is for $5.7 billion, including $4.77 billion in discretionary spending. The administration has also proposed to provide $954 million in fire suppression funding within the disaster cap.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., pointed out that over the past two years, more than $1 billion has been carved out from other accounts to pay for unanticipated emergency firefighting costs. “These additional obligations have come at a cost in the investments we can make in public land maintenance and construction, water and sewer grants, land acquisition, and every other account funded in this bill,” he said.

Reed added a provision in the budget proposal that moves a portion of spending into a disaster cap is great step forward that takes care of several problems. “First, it removes the agency’s need to borrow from non-fire accounts and provides a steady stream of funding throughout the fire season, so that you can do both your firefighting and your other work without setting aside funds within construction, land acquisition, and your mandatory programs in case there is a need for it,” he said. “Second, it allows us to put emphasis on the programs that will help you prevent catastrophic fire in the future, such as hazardous fuels reduction, watershed and vegetation management, and inholdings acquisitions. Third, it protects the programs that would otherwise get cut within future budget proposals to pay for more fire needs, like research and state grant programs.”

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell discussed many issues, including the Forest Service’s energy initiatives, during the hearing.

In his written testimony, Tidwell discussed the Collaborate Forest Landscape Restoration Program, which was created in 2009 to help restore high-priority y forested landscapes, improve forest health, promote job stability, create a reliable wood supply, and to reduce firefighting risks across the United States. He noted that 23 large-scale projects were selected for 10-year funding. “All of the existing projects are on track to meet their 10-year goals, and to date, more than 588,461 acres of wildlife habitat have been improved, while generating 814 million board feet of timber and 1.9 million green tons of biomass for energy production and other uses,” Tidwell said. The Forest Service is proposing to increase program authorization to $80 million and is requesting $60 million in fiscal year 2015 to continue to implement the 23 existing projects and establish new projects.

The testimony also addresses the Forest Service’s Woody Biomass Utilization Grants Program, which funds grants to develop community wood-to-energy plans and to acquire or upgrade wood-based energy systems. During fiscal year 2013, Tidwell said 10 biomass grants were awarded totaling almost $2.5 million to small businesses and community groups. “Our goal is lower energy bills, greater rural prosperity, and better environmental outcomes overall,” he said.

A full copy of Tidwell’s testimony and a link to a hearing webcast can be accessed on the Senate Committee on Appropriations website.