2006 Midterm Elections Spell Changes for Urban Forestry

Washington, DC (November 13, 2006)- Last week’s election will change the composition of the appropriations committees that fund federal forestry programs, including the USDA Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry program. Several senior appropriators were not re-elected, resulting in vacancies, and additional openings may be created if current members take on new committee assignments.

In the House, several members of the Interior and Related Agencies sub-committee did not get re-elected. These outgoing Republican members include: Rep. Taylor of North Carolina (Chair), Rep. Sherwood of Pennsylvania, and Rep. Istook of Oklahoma. As chair, Representative Taylor took a strong interest in traditional forestry concerns while Representative Sherwood was a long-time supporter of the U&CF program, particularly within his home district in Northeastern Pennsylvania. In the Senate, Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Conrad Burns of Montana lost a close race to Democratic candidate John Tester.
As Democrats assume the majority in both the House and Senate, we are hopeful that conservation programs, including the suite of cooperative State and Private Forestry programs, will see an end to the steady cuts of the last five budget cycles. Many states are experiencing budget cuts as a result of shrinking appropriations paired, in some cases, with impacts from the program’s new allocation methodology. Smaller budgets have profound consequences for the local communities that rely on state technical and financial assistance. In several cases, states are projecting 50% cuts or elimination of their state cost-share grant programs. This severely impacts local government programs and grassroots projects.
You can take action by urging your Representative and Senators to get involved in the 2007 U&CF budget, which has still not been finalized. If your new representative has not yet taken office, now is a great time to let him/her know about your issues. Looking ahead to the FY 2008 budget, you can let your elected officials know that the U&CF program really needs a $50 million budget to address the nation’s needs.
Just because there has been a change in majority leadership does not mean that U&CF programs will automatically receive budget increases. U&CF is a relatively small program with a low profile, and the federal budget remains tight. In addition, U&CF has historically been a non-political program supported by both sides of the aisle. Advocates will need to re-educate new members of the Interior Appropriations Sub-committees to make them aware of the positive value of the U&CF program and the need for continued federal leadership.
A great way to begin this education process is to invite your local congressional staff-members on a personal field tour to discuss urban forest issues in their district. Most will not be aware of the tangible benefits trees provide to their constituents, and even fewer will be aware that there is a federal program available to help address your community’s needs. Cultivate a relationship with local congressional staff by placing them on your newsletter mailing list, sending event invitations, and requesting a meeting (at least once a year) in which you brief them on your local projects and key urban forest issues for the district. Consider bringing a well-informed team (no more than 2-3 people) that can speak to the major issues. It would be especially useful to bring your state forester with you, since he/she administers the federal U&CF program in your state.
Related Resources:
2006 Election Results for All States

House Appropriations Committee Members

Senate Appropriations Committee Members

Basic Protocols for Communicating w/Congress