In testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources today, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the proposed FY 2013 Forest Service budget responds to the public’s desire for the conservation and stewardship of the nation’s forests and grasslands with efficient, cost-effective spending.
The $4.86 billion proposed agency budget, an increase of less than one-half of one percent over the 2012 appropriated level, prioritizes the budget on three themes: restoration, communities and fire.
“Millions of Americans have forest-related jobs, from forest restoration work to recreation use, wood products, grazing, and energy and mineral development,” Tidwell said. “In 2010, national forests attracted over 170 million annual visitors, which in recreation use alone sustained nearly 223,000 jobs while contributing $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy.”
Tidwell said the budget request will help the Forest Service engage communities and help Americans reconnect to the outdoors, expand on recreation benefits and create a wide range of opportunities for economic expansion to retain and create jobs.
“The budget request also fosters partnership with communities and cooperating agencies to reduce the threat of wildland fires to people, property and watersheds,” he said.
The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public lands on 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands in 44 states and Puerto Rico. The agency also works through effective partnerships with states, Tribes, local governments, communities and private forest landowners to support sustainable stewardship of 423 million acres of private forest, 68 million acres of state forests and 18 million acres of Tribal forestlands.
Tidwell said the agency can meet the challenges of ecological restoration by working across boundaries to address forest mortality and live tree density, invasive species and watershed degradation.
This is important because 66 million people in roughly 3,400 communities across the nation get their water from national forests.
“Our mission is to work with the American people on all lands to sustain the benefits needed and wanted from their forests and grasslands,” Tidwell said.
Tidwell pointed to a host of issues, such as regional drought, loss of open space and catastrophic wildfires as challenges that are degrading the nation’s natural infrastructure.
“Our restoration efforts are guided by a continuous cycle of assessing, implementing and adapting based on information from inventory and monitoring efforts,” Tidwell said. “This strategy will yield a variety of forest products and restore the structure, function, composition, and processes of healthy, resilient ecosystems across the nation.”
Among programs that will more effectively protect the nation’s ecosystems is the Integrated Resource Restoration proposal and Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration projects, both of which help the agency take an all-lands approach to managing natural resources.
“In FY 2013, through Integrated Resource Restoration we propose to restore or sustain 2.6 million acres on National Forest System lands, provide 2.8 billion board feet of timber, decommission over 2,000 miles of road, and restore or enhance 2,750 miles of stream habitat,” Tidwell said. “By focusing on restoration outcomes, the Integrated Resource Restoration program empowers Forest Service managers and local communities to find the best, most efficient way to meet their ecological, economic and social objectives.”
Restoration work, which includes essential levels of research in high-priority and strategic program areas, also creates healthy communities, Tidwell said.
“The nation depends on the Forest Service to take proactive measures to reduce the threat of wildfire,” he said. “By working proactively to re-establish fire-adapted ecosystems, we can reduce the severity of large wildfires. The proposed budget for FY 2013 would direct fire management resources toward the highest priority areas. We are ready to protect life, property and community, and public safety.”
The FY 2013 budget proposal also calls for the reauthorization for five years of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000; includes proposed language that would authorize the Secretary to enter into agreements with interpretive association to enhance visitor aware of natural resources and cultural heritage; and reducing spending levels in travel, information technology, printing, fleet and promotional items.