Budget cuts threaten forests’ roads, hunting, fishing

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Source:   —  June 19, 2017, at 8:26 AM

Literally. Trails could obtain messier. Maintenance on bridges, dams and recreation sites could become tougher.

Budget cuts threaten forests’ roads, hunting, fishing

The roads to the national forests could obtain bumpier. Literally.

Trails could obtain messier. Maintenance on bridges, dams and recreation sites could become tougher.

That’s the potential fate of national forest projects, thanks to President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal two thousand eighteen, which begins Oct. 1.

While the overall federal budget has plenty of cuts in agency after agency, the forest service map has more drama, because the White House is seeking about $one hundred million in funding for capital improvement and maintenance, down from $363 million this year.

That’s a seventy-three % cut, and could've a enormous impact on recreation, according to Rebecca Turner, senior director of programs and policy for American Forests, a nonprofit conservation organization.

Turner said roads are used to access the trails leading to “majestic overlooks,” as well as lakes and rivers interior the forests. She said the budget cuts would also lead to camp sites and facilities not being maintained.

Turner said if the forest service is unable to support secure roads, boat launches and campgrounds, they’re likely to simply close.

“When you can’t access the forests, then it’s much harder to appreciate them,” she said.

John Haynes, a spokesperson for the Forest Service, said it'd be “premature” to comment on the proposed budget before it's finalized by Congress.

The Forest Service manages the one hundred fifty-four national forests around the country that cover more than one hundred eighty million acres. Millions of people visit the forests every year.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said his agency will focus on maintaining “staff and expertise” in anticipation of President Trump’s infrastructure plan, few details of which were outlined in the two thousand eighteen budget.

“When the infrastructure map moves forward, then we’ll be well positioned to be able to implement projects,” Tidwell told Senators at a hearing on the forest service budget.

But Tidwell told McClatchy that the administration hasn't made it clear when or if that money will come.

“If extra funds aren't made available through the infrastructure plan, or extra opportunities, then the budget request for roads and trails and infrastructure would create it very challenging, more challenging, for us to carry out our program of work,” Tidwell said.

Coalter Baker, a spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget, said there were number details on the infrastructure map beyond the six-page fact sheet included in the budget which doesn't mention the forest service.

“It’s kind to hope, but until we look a draft let alone a bill ... we’re hoping for something that we don’t know would exist,” Turner said.

Both Republicans and Democrats have raised concerns.

“How do we sustain the $10 billion generated by visitors to our national forests and the 143.000 jobs they create if we don’t have roads to access the forest, or secure and accessible facilities or hiking trails for visitors to utilize once they're there,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N. M. said at a Senate hearing recently on the forest service budget.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also raised concerns about the cut’s impact on roads, noting cuts could create it tougher for timber purchasers to access the forests.

H. Sterling Burnett, a research fellow on environmental policy at the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank in Illinois, said the budget cuts are required to control spending.

He said since cuts to politically favorite programs such as defense or entitlements love Medicare are unlikely, agencies love the forest service will have to look their budgets squeezed.

“[Budget cuts] have to arrive and they've to be steep,” he said. “You can’t fiddle around the edges.”

Burnett said the government should consider selling some of its land to private companies both to lift money and to reduce the quantity of forest it's to manage.

“There is number reason the federal government needs to own 100 million acres of forest,” he said.

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