Congressional Report on Urban and Community Forestry Program

(Washington, DC, August 16, 2004). This past winter, Congress conducted a national investigation of the Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry program.


The resulting report has just been released and is posted at: http://appropriations.house.gov/_files/ForestServiceUrbanForestrypgmreport.pdf
This report will not be permanently posted – so I suggest that you retain a copy for yourself.
The report is primarily a ‘state of the program’ document, derived from conversations with stakeholders around the country. It underscores the challenges the program has faced, particularly accounting procedures, reporting procedures and performance measures. It is a good primer on how the federal program operates, for those who may want to understand this more.
ACT DOCUMENT SUMMARY
Key Items from the Report:
How UCF appropriations are spent is difficult to determine because UCF headquarters does not have the ability to track funds; it provided different versions of expenditures that cannot be reconciled.
According to Forest Service documents, 80 percent of UCF funding over the 5-year period, FY 1999 through FY 2003, was used for field distribution. However, according to state foresters’ documents, only 53 percent of the UCF Program’s funds went to the states.
Forest Service officials concede they have not used any performance standards on UCF Program implementation, thus leading to an inability to hold states accountable for success or failure against a set standard or in relation to other states.
The proposed revised allocation methodology (effective FY 2006) will reward state programs which favor the greatest number of people possible.
Referencing the role of Non-profits:
“NGOs encourage and support the development and implementation of UCF programs and, according to Federal and state officials, play a major role in providing expertise, financial, and in-kind support for grant projects, while serving on local and state advisory councils, committees, or boards. Representatives of non-profit organizations believe, because of their close connection with communities, they are a vital conduit of outreach to the local communities. A Forest Service official noted that non-profit organizations are much better at organizing local communities than the Forest Service. Some non-profit representatives stated they would like more involvement with the Forest Service and the states in meeting national goals. In their opinion, the greater the number of people involved, particularly at the grassroots level, the more effective the Program will be in any given area. Local non-profit organizations are generally among those receiving funding through state grants for specific urban and community projects.”
Forest Service Response to the Report:
This report was commissioned by the House Appropriations Sub-committee on Interior and is primarily an internal tool that Congress can use in directing the Forest Service toward reforms.
That said, here are some comments shared with us by Mark Buscaino, National Program Director for UCF for the Forest Service Washington Office:
For all of the hype that accompanied the investigation, the outcome reflects much, if not all, of the issues that we have been discussing amongst ourselves over the past several years. I think this supports the perspective that I hold, which is that we know our program better than anyone else, and that we possess the ability to improve it. And, improving the program is what we all want, no matter what our individual perspective. From where I sit, building a stronger national program rests with our willingness to discuss and resolve several long-standing issues which we are all aware of and frequently discuss, such as: focus on urban verses rural communities, federal verses state program, funding of regional and national projects, NUCFAC funding and their role as advisor vs. grant provider, state support and financial commitment, and a few others._ No matter what road we take, I feel it is critical that we do not let these issues detract us from raising the visibility and effectiveness of the program to ensure its survival and significance within the broader objectives of the US Forest Service, the State Forestry Agencies, and the missions of the public and private organizations with whom we partner to deliver this program. For all of its success since 1990, the program is at the point where it needs consistent and strong support from every partner if it is to thrive, and I’m confident we all can do this together. The other observation I wanted to offer was that the UCF National Assessment, prepared by NUCFAC, which is undergoing its final edits, speaks to many of the topics discussed in the S&I report. This National Assessment will be posted on the web when it is complete, and I’m sure you will be as interested as I was to see many of its parallels to the S&I report. I thank you all very much for your hard work in community forestry in both urban, suburban and rural settings, and I look forward to working with all of you to ensure a strong, healthy UCF program in the future. Please feel free to distribute the web address for this report as you see fit.
Sincerely,
Mark Buscaino
Director, USDA Forest Service
Urban & Community Forestry Program