The take-homes from Trump’s first Forest Service budget suggest a significant shift in how this administration views the Forest Service.
Timber sale levels will go down modestly. With the Forest Products line item funded at a no-change level of $360 million, I predict sale levels will remain below 3 billion board feet (notwithstanding a stated “target” of 3.2 bbf) and the increases under the Obama administration (from 2.5 bbf in 2008 to 2.9 bbf in 2016) will reverse due to cost inflation.
Former Secretary Vilsack’s “all lands” approach is dead. “All lands” called for “using all USDA resources and authorities, in collaboration with NRCS, to sustain the entire matrix of federal, state, tribal, county, municipal, and private forests.” Trump’s vision is narrower. To justify zeroing out Urban Forestry, Open Space Conservation, Forest Legacy, and the Collaborative Forest Restoration program, USDA’s “focus will be on the maintenance of the existing National Forest System lands.”
Law enforcement,, which is small potatoes in the Forest Service, is the only program area that sees a budget increase (2%) over last year. Most everything else (e.g., fish and wildlife, livestock, minerals) faces an 11% cut. Forest planning will slow even further, hard as that is to believe, as planning not only faces the same 11% cut, but has to fight with inventory and monitoring functions (which spend almost four times as much money) for its piece of a smaller pie. Insofar as planning makes policy, don’t expect any new ones anytime soon.
Hazardous fuels treatment faces a 7% cut and a sharper focus to treat “priority areas near communities that reduce risk to communities and firefighters and increase resilience of forests to catastrophic fire.” It’ll be interesting to see if managers get the message to stop wasting money treating fuels in the backcountry.
Whatever rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure may mean to Trump, the Forest Service isn’t going to have a seat at that table. The budget calls for a 73% cut in capital improvement and maintenance, including zeroing out the Legacy Roads and Trails program that pays for replacing fish-blocking culverts. Trail maintenance will drop from $77 million to $12 million, so visitors should be prepared to scramble over downed trees and be proficient with maps and GPS as disappearing trail signs are not replaced.
As for roads, which are slated for a 56% funding cut, the budget’s nostalgia for the good-old-days envisions timber sales, salvage no less, paying for road up-keep. Maybe the reimposition of tariffs on Canadian lumber will boost Forest Service stumpage prices, but I wouldn’t bet my house on it.
Last, but not least, Forest Service research is slated for a 16% budget cut from FY 2017 levels. The only logic to the specific cuts I can see is that the Forest Service will spend a little more on counting things like trees, i.e., inventory, and a lot less on basic science.
In sum, this budget narrows the Forest Service focus to taking minimal care of its own land. The Heritage Foundation is happy. Is anyone else?