Washington, DC (September 10, 2013) – As Congress returns this week after its summer recess, international issues top its agenda, but budget and annual appropriations issues also loom large. Here’s a quick update on the status of funding for the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry (U&CF) Program and how ACTrees has been engaging in advocacy for the Program.
On July 22nd, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee released its bill for funding Interior and Environment programs of the USDA Forest Service, Interior Department, and Environmental Protection Agency. Overall, the bill recommends a 19% cut from FY2013 and makes major cuts in Forest Service programs.
The reductions hit State and Private Forestry (S&PF) programs particularly hard and exclude or eliminate funding for the U&CF Program. In a news release, Appropriations Committee Chair, Hal Rogers (R- KY) and Interior Subcommittee Chair Mike Simpson (R-ID) recognized the difficult choices that need to be made in this extremely tough budget environment.
ACTrees joined partners in the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition to voice concern and signed onto a letter opposing this House bill. ACTrees will also participate in ongoing advocacy activities on the Hill to urge strong funding for the U&CF Program in FY2014.
Senate action was much more favorable to environmental programs, including the U&CF Program. The Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee released a draft funding bill on August 1st which provides funding for the Forest Service and the U&CF Program at levels similar to the Obama Administration’s proposed budget.
With the bill’s release, Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-RI) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) expressed hope of advancing bipartisan discussion toward an FY2014 Interior funding bill but acknowledged the great distance between their bill and the House bill. Implicitly, this recognized the possibility of a Continuing Resolution (CR) which appears to be the direction that Congressional leadership is moving—toward a short-term CR for annual funding while attempting to deal with larger, longer-term budget issues.
Exacerbating the Forest Service funding situation is the ongoing dilemma of how Congress will fund the massive and growing costs of wildfire suppression. In late August, the Forest Service announced that it had depleted funds allocated by Congress for wildfire suppression in FY2013 and that it would begin transferring $600 million from other agency programs to support the needs for emergency wildfire suppression. ACTrees will be participating with conservation partners to help find solutions to this wildfire funding dilemma as it affects all Forest Service programs, including U&CF.