Senate Energy (D): Bingaman on Forest Service Budget

February 28, 2006
04:36 PM

Hearing on FY 2007 Budget Request for the
Forest Service
Feb. 28, 2006 

Opening Statement

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)

“Thank you Mr. Chairman, and welcome back Under Secretary Rey and Chief Bosworth.  I would like to mention a few general concerns I have with the budget, and then I will have a few specific questions at the appropriate time.

“At the outset, let me very briefly express my deep concern with the proposal to sell-off $800 million of National Forests to partially fund -- then terminate -- the County Payments program.

“As you know, that bill was put together under the bipartisan leadership of Senators Wyden and Craig, and it has been successful by fostering an open, collaborative approach for bringing people together to reinvest in the restoration of federal lands.  The administration’s proposal, by contrast, was developed in a unilateral approach that was sure to be a controversial way to divest the people of their federal lands. 

“I am also concerned that the proposal is a significant distraction for agency personnel with important work on the ground, from our bipartisan efforts to reauthorize the County Payments program, and from the many serious issues that deserve our attention in this budget.  With that said, I will leave it at that and turn to a few of those issues.

            “Parts of the West are experiencing some of the driest conditions on record.  In the Southwest, we are struggling to prepare for what looks to be a catastrophic fire season with a Fire Preparedness program that was cut by more than 20 percent -- and that was on top of cuts from the year before.  This budget proposes yet another cut of $10 million to the national Preparedness program, dramatic cuts in State Fire Assistance, and virtual elimination of the Fire Rehabilitation program.

            “The lack of funding for hazardous fuels reduction projects also is a concern.  We have tens of thousands of acres of projects in the Southwest alone that have completed NEPA and notice and comment, and are ready for immediate implementation but for a lack of funds.  The local staff of the Forest Service has worked very hard with our communities to put these projects together.  They have done their part.  This budget does not do its part to get those projects off of the shelf and on to the ground.

“This drought also makes people think about water -- although in the Southwest, we are always thinking about water.  I think we often forget -- despite that it is enshrined in the Forest Service’s 1897 Organic Act -- that watershed protection was perhaps the most important purpose for the National Forests. 

“I am concerned about a continuing lack of commitment to water in this budget and, in light of significant cuts to Bureau of Reclamation, USGS, Indian Affairs, EPA and Corps of Engineers water programs, the President’s Budget in general.

“Let me mention just one specific example.  A few years back, the Forest Service used to say in its Budget Justification that ‘fixing roads is likely the single most significant thing that could be done to improve water quality in the National Forests.’ 

“We don’t see that statement any more.  Instead, we see continuing cuts in the road maintenance budget.  This budget proposes $39.4 million (17.7 percent) in cuts to that program, and it is only the latest in a series of budget cuts that have left an increasingly deteriorated road system that is the single greatest threat to water quality on our National Forests.

“I’d appreciate hearing your views on these important issues.  Thank you again for coming.”