Forest Service Budget – Chairman of the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.

Speaking again of the Salmon-Challis National Forest’s alleged predicament, that they have to sell trees to be able to afford fuel treatments, this budget proposal from Oregon Senator Merkley might be part of the solution.

“I’m ready to be in partnership with the U.S. Forest Chief,” Merkley said, describing plans to get the federal agency the resources it needs to improve forest management, reduce catastrophic fires and provide greater protection for parts of towns and cities threatened by wildfire in the urban-rural interface.

In Oregon we have more than 2 million acres and we’ve already gone through the environmental process to be approved to be treated, and yet we don’t have the money to actually do the treatment,” he said.

Merkley said he’s spoken with the Biden Administration about “viewing our national forest as infrastructure,” and wants the president to add forest management commitments in Biden’s infrastructure proposal known as the American Jobs Plan.

He also says that news of the president’s “commitment” to the forest management program could be days away.  (This was May 28; did I miss it?)

I wasn’t aware that the legislation intended to end fire borrowing may have failed:

A “Wildfire Suppression Cap Adjustment” emergency fund that the forest service could dip into during “bad fire years” was enacted in 2018 by the Senate appropriations committee, but the fund conflicts with the 10-year budgets required by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Merkley also proposes “offering forest management jobs to wildland firefighters.” 

 

 

 

16 thoughts on “Forest Service Budget – Chairman of the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.”

  1. When I first started work in the FS (in 1989) and working in project planning, I remember hearing that it was never acceptable to say that we needed to log to generate KV funds to do other projects – Congress at the time did not like the fact that the FS could generate at least some of their own funding through mechanisms like KV collection. This too was not too long after the FS was able to collect KV funds for more than just post-logging reforestation. About 10-15 years ago that seemed to change and I still always cringe for some reason when I hear the FS say they have to log to generate the funds to do other project work. Yes, Congress has given the FS many ways to hold onto timber sale receipts (or stewardship receipts) to fund other work, but saying we need to log to generate funds has just never seemed “right” to me.

    Reply
    • I don’t see anything wrong with selling timber to pay for fuels work, road maintenance, adding/improving recreation sites, etc. — if the timber harvesting itself also accomplishes forest plan goals. If a stewardship contract involves cutting timber and replacing culverts to improve fish passage is kosher, why not a stewardship contract that includes paving deteriorated roads or building a new campground?

      I recently drove on a heavily used USFS road — leads to popular rec sites. The road is crumbling and some potholes that were small a decade ago are now huge. When I hit one that I didn’t see in time, my camping gear, in the back of my SUV, bounced up to the roof. The forest can wait for Congress to provide adequate funding or use revenue from a thinning project to pay for some or all of the road work. The latter seems logical and practical.

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  2. Here is a reason it might feel “wrong.” As I remember the training I had in federal appropriation law, there is a principle that you can’t spend money that Congress hasn’t authorized because Congress gets to set the priorities and uses of federal funds. This includes a prohibition against “augmenting” federal funds with other sources. Without specific legislation to permit this, the Forest Service would be establishing priorities and spending money that Congress hasn’t approved. Does Congress really know and agree with what the Forest Service is doing with its receipts? This is especially cringeworthy where the timber harvesting is not contributing to forest plan goals (like logging fire resistant trees doesn’t achieve fuel reduction goals), or worse, is counter to forest plan goals like preserving large trees.

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    • I think there’s something deeper there that I’ll explore in another comment (feeling wrong) but the KV Act of 1930 and its amendments of 2005 are precisely that.. Congress telling the FS (or Sec of Ag) that they can spend it the way they like, within the sideboards.

      .
      ‘SEC. 3. ø16 U.S.C. 576b¿ (a) The Secretary of Agriculture may, when in his or her 1 judgment such action will be in the public in terest, require any purchaser of national-forest timber to make deposits of money, in addition to the payments for the timber, to cover the cost to the United States of (1) planting (including the production or purchase of young trees), (2) sowing with tree seeds (including the collection or purchase of such seeds), (3) cutting, de- stroying, or otherwise removing undesirable trees or other growth, on the national-forest land cut over by the purchaser, in order to improve the future stand of timber, (4) protecting and improving the future productivity of the renewable resources of the forest land on such sale area, including sale area improvement operations maintenance and construction, reforestation and wildlife habitat management, or (5) watershed restoration, wildlife habitat im- provement, control of insects, disease and noxious weeds, commu- nity protection activities, and the maintenance of forest roads, within the Forest Service region in which the timber sale occurred: Provided, That such activities may be performed through the use.”

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  3. Wow, two days in a row; I have a different perspective on the KV discussion.

    Back in the day, say 1979, I was a youngster working in silviculture, revising KV Plans in Eastern Oregon. We were mainly interested in the “essential KV”, and not so much the non-essential. I really did not know what I was doing at the time, but I was doing a great job at it.

    Evolution of career took me into pre-sale, and writing EA’s for timber harvest. In a turn of cosmic proportions, it all started making sense. However, as most of the other disciplines looked around, we were generating millions and millions of dollars in KV!

    As such, the actual guidance for the uses of KV seemed to take on a life of its own, in a contrived sort of way. The conversations were: “if you want to build a stinking wildlife improvement project, you’d better help plan a unit, within, or adjacent to the Sale Area Boundary”. Those types of conversations were what made our planning and NEPA actions most valuable. However, as the rules became more, shall we say, “convoluted”, the absurdity grew exponentially!

    Too many interpretations weakened the Act (KV), and now, even thinking of using it as a crutch to harvest timber is just bizarre!

    Also, anyone expecting Congress to actually help anything in dealing with public land management issues would also be interested in some ocean-front property, here in Arkansas. Tell ‘em “honest Jim” sent ya…..

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  4. Ironically, it used to be that lower level timber employees did a lot of firefighting. Now, it seems like a timbermarker’s ‘trigger finger’ is too important to go on wildfires. “There’s too much work to do in the six months you can work this year.”

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    • So, does Merkley expect that firefighters would shift to timber management when they ‘find the time’, during “all year fire season”? Will temporary timber people suddenly become obsolete? How many timber temps will decide on a career change (to firefighting or other non-USFS occupation)? Will fall burning keep firefighters from doing timber work? Will firefighters work in the rain and snow, during the winter?

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  5. So back to the “feeling wrong”. The purpose and need for the project should be tiered to things in the Plan. Most forests have timber harvesting in their plans, as being a legitimate use of NF land. In the words of MUSYA (1960) “it is the policy of the Congress that the national forests are established and shall be administered for outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes.”

    I think “we need to cut trees to get money” may be shorthand for “if we have all these objectives and need to cut them anyway to fulfill our Plan and targets set by Congress, why not do them on the same acres and be able to collect KV to do other things on this site?” It’s kind of spreading timber time, effort and KV funds to do what folks want .. “sharing the wealth.” Our money goes farther if we cut some trees and ship them to the mill, which we are required to do anyway.

    But if you think what we might call “timber for sawlogs” and “doing other things including small diameter trees” need to be separate, then it might feel wrong to mix the two. Now we can say “where they fit, they fit (together) and where they don’t they don’t” but it seems to me that that’s on a site by site basis.

    This is an interesting discussion.

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  6. It definitely “felt wrong” when a plantation was purposely included into my insect salvage project, solely to spend KV funds on. I think the intent of KV funds was to mitigate the management effects of the current project. Not to fund the mastication of an un-impacted plantation.

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  7. I think the appropriate use of KV funds is a different issue from where I started this, which was about including higher valued timber to entice someone to do the logging. Especially with this language from NFMA: “Timber will be harvested only where the harvesting system is not selected primarily because it will give the greatest dollar return or unit output of timber.”

    I agree that projects should be designed to achieve forest plan desired conditions. I think treating timber volume as an objective that is independent of the conditions of the actual forest is playing loose with planning regulations that were designed to focus on the conditions of the land.

    I’m am pretty unversed in the details of KV funds, but this document includes a discussion of the allowable scope of how they may be used: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3794789.pdf
    Here are a couple of key things they can’t be used for:
    “Any project work outside the sale area boundary.”
    “Mitigation of timber sale effects.”

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  8. Yes, I see that there may be two separate things… “if we throw in these trees, someone will pay us to do the thing we otherwise want to do for forest conditions and may not have the money to do otherwise”

    To meet forest condition needs and timber volume needs simultaneously.

    Vs. “If we sell this sale we can get KV $ to do other good things somewhere in the sale area.”

    Clearly somewhere along the NFMA line, the Forest has a timber objective and conceivably has to get trees from somewhere to meet the objective. I suppose you could have a “pure fuels treatment” that won’t sell, and a “pure timber sale” that does sell, but I don’t know exactly what purity buys the FS or the taxpayer in this case.

    Reply
    • I would disagree with, “Clearly somewhere along the NFMA line, the Forest has a timber objective and conceivably has to get trees from somewhere to meet the objective.” At least with regard to NFMA itself; NFMA was intended to limit timber harvest. While the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act authorizes it, this doesn’t establish a requirement for any particular forest to do it. They could arguably do that in their forest plan, although I don’t think that is the intent of the Planning Rule when it says desired conditions are “a description of specific social, economic and/or ecological characteristics of the plan area toward which management of the land and resources should be directed.” More than likely, any timber “objective” comes from the budget process – which I wouldn’t consider to be “along the NFMA line.”

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      • Well that’s an interesting question.. how do the budget and NFMA processes interact? It seems like there’s a “what can you do” process that is directed by forest plan guidance but is also somewhat historic (and also limited if there are no nearby mills). If the intent of the Planning Rule was to make it such that timber production is not a desired characteristic of plans.. then perhaps they should have been more specific. Also not sure that would be legal as per MUSYA.

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        • I don’t know how they do interact, but I learned how they were expected to when RPA/NFMA was passed. Forest plans would determine the allowable sale quantity (ASQ) and the budget process used that information, unfortunately usually as a target rather than as a ceiling (as defined by NFMA, emphasis on “allowable)”. ASQ is limited in part by what else the plan wanted to do. A plan should have a desired condition for its ecosystems that should drive ASQ. Except that the Planning Handbook has changed the way timber volume limits are defined (no ASQ in revised forest plans) so that there really aren’t any (which I see as a violation of NFMA). Which would be less useful in the budget process.

          “Timber production” is recognized in NFMA by the delineation of lands that are not suitable for that. I don’t think there would be a legal problem with having no lands suitable for timber production. (I’m sure the grasslands don’t have any, and there may also be a forest or two.)

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  9. Absolutely Sharon, you hit the proverbial nail on the head; your spot-on identification of the meat of this discussion, then weaving the two most likely scenarios of “purity”, as you called it, is THE dilemma Forests face. I know this is Planning group, but you “got’ta” include the impacts of Line Officer intent on these types of projects.

    The $ is almost always tied to outputs; either volumes, or acres treated. The concept of volumes sold means little to Forests with limited commercial (read -suitable) timber acres. However, talk to the Black Hills, or Ouachita (I have worked on both as Ranger and as Forest Sup) and you gain a whole new respect for volume sold.

    Of course the goal is to use the volume to pay for the work needed, the challenge is doing that to make folks “almost” happy with it! 🤠

    As you said, great discussion!

    Reply
  10. The conservative view – agency self-funding is a two-edged sword. The idea itself presents REAL problems.

    For instance, SIGNIFICANT self-funding (In a number of different ways) at the US DHHS FDA and CDC have pretty much made the career employees there able to NOT answer inquiries from Congress or the Administration. They don’t need Congress’s money anymore.

    As an example let’s look at the US Vaccine Program. Although the money from vaccines (patents and sales) comes to those agencies in different ways (intentionally hidden, I think), the outcome is the same – ALL of US Public Health, from DHHS on down through the States and Counties, has, in effect, become salesmen, and apologists, for the US Vaccine Industry.

    Why?

    Because the lion’s share of each applicable DHHS agency, sub-agency, and State and local partner’s funding comes from INCREASING THE PERCENTAGE of those vaccinated in their local jurisdiction. In California, Public Health, through their Unions, convinced the California legislature to MANDATE seventy-four (74) vaccines to grade school, so as to go to school.

    Of course California’s Public Health’s budget increased after that.

    But then, any one in government can see, very clearly, that US Public Health, as a whole, was completely unprepared for the Covid-19 event. The reality was that they had become COMPLETELY reliant on “vaccines” as the solution for everything, and when Covid-19 came along their cry was simple – “but we don’t have a vaccine for that…”

    And we all saw what happened…

    Reply

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