Democratic News

Forest Service Chief commits to Manchin that SRS payments will be distributed by April 15th

To watch a video of Senator Manchin’s opening remarks, please click here.

To watch a video of Senator Manchin’s questioning, please click here.

Washington, DC – Today, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service Chief Victoria Christiansen testified before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee about the Administration’s budget request for the USDA Forest Service for Fiscal Year 2020. Senator Manchin questioned Ms. Christiansen about the lapsed Secure Rural Schools payments to 14 counties in West Virginia, including Pocahontas County. Chief Christiansen committed to Senator Manchin that the payments will be distributed to counties by April 15, 2019. Senator Manchin also questioned Chief Christiansen about the Forest Service’s plans to address the backlog in deferred maintenance and update the recreation permitting process. 

“Pocahontas County is one of our rural counties and they depend on Secure Rural Schools funding. They’ve lost 14 staff members already. But on top of that, they haven’t gotten their payments from last year and they’re two months behind on that. Is that going to be coming quick? They’ve called and asked me about that,” Senator Manchin asked.

“We work closely with the Treasury and OMB and just this morning we learned we have all the clearance and those payments will be distributed by April 15th,” Chief Christiansen said.

“Deferred maintenance funding is a big thing. I understand that the Forest Service has $5.5 billion in deferred maintenance and last year the USDA Office of Inspector General reviewed your deferred maintenance. After that review, the OIG recommended that the Forest Service develop an integrated strategy to address the deferred maintenance backlog, including a long-term vision for the agency’s infrastructure portfolio. I have a few questions but when do you envision being finished developing your strategy and will you share it with us here in Congress as soon as that’s done?” Senator Manchin asked.

“Absolutely, Senator. It is near completion, it is working its way through clearance and it will be here to Congress this spring for sure,” Chief Christiansen said.  

“If the funding is approved and the money that’s needed is appropriated, can you share with me what your highest priorities would be in the maintenance area that you’ve seen so far or has been brought to your attention?” Senator Manchin asked. 

“We have multiple priorities. We would first look at improving forest conditions, the access we need to get the work done on the ground for reducing fire risks and improving the health of the forests. And the access we would need to continue our fire response operations. With that said Senator, as you have mentioned, recreation is a large part of our economy so we will have to balance the needs of the deferred part of our recreation infrastructure as well. We’d be glad to work with you as we set those priorities,” Chief Christiansen said.  

“There is a backlog of permits for business activities related to recreation. Without that, they’re done. They can’t book, they can’t plan for next year at all. Those are real priorities for us because they keep the economy going as we’re fixing our other problems,” Senator Manchin stated.

“Yes, sir. That’s one of our three marquis reform processes. It’s modernizing our special use permits both on the infrastructure side, the communication side and the recreation side. We have over 71,000 special use permits and there’s more demand,” Chief Christiansen said.

To watch the hearing in full, please click here.  

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