Washington, DC (October 14, 2013) – After two weeks, the partial shutdown of the federal government continues as a critical deadline for the nation’s debt-ceiling approaches later this week. Hope for a resolution has shifted from the House to the Senate–but the outcome remains uncertain. How does this action—or inaction—by Congress and the Administration affect local tree planting and urban forestry groups? What can local groups do?
Though it might not be satisfying, the answer for local urban forestry organizations is to stay focused on the work you’ve been doing as practitioners and advocates, and to think long-term as you communicate with policymakers about the need for and benefits of urban trees and forests. Learn more about taking action.
This is the strategy ACTrees is taking, along with partners in the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition (SUFC). The SUFC Policy Working Group has put together talking points for member organizations and is coordinating meetings with members of the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate.
The House side is more critical, as it was the House Interior and Environment Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee that threatened the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry (U&CF) Program by not including it in the Subcommittee’s FY 2014 funding bill. While it’s not entirely clear why the Subcommittee targeted U&CF—as well as a number of other conservation programs—our best response is to step up our advocacy for the U&CF Program and urban forestry broadly through visits with key policymakers.
The current funding crisis is particularly difficult for the U.S. Forest Service given the recent transfer of $600 million from other agency programs to pay for emergency wildfire suppression. On top of the federal budget cuts—or sequestration—earlier this year and the current government shutdown, the Forest Service must also deal with reduced program budgets as a result of the transfer.
The effects of this budget crisis on Forest Service programs are significant. Funds for many programs, including U&CF, are being reduced or delayed, forcing projects and activities to be deferred until the funds become available—if they do. In addition, Forest Service employees are unable to participate in ongoing partnership activities during the shutdown. This, too, is resulting in project delays, as technical assistance from agency scientists and experts is often needed to help move projects forward.
It’s still unclear how the impasse might be resolved. While there is speculation about a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government at last year’s levels while Congress deals with broader budget issues, there is also talk of a “grand bargain” on broad issues rather than a CR.
ACTrees is hopeful Congress and the President will resolve the funding impasse soon. In the meantime, we’re continuing our strategic efforts with partners to meet with Congressional members and advocate for urban trees and forests for the long term.