Hearing of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Proposed FiscalYear 2006 Budget Request for the Forest Service
Prepared Statement of Hon. Ken Salazar, U.S. Senator From Colorado
Thank you Mr. Chairman. Good morning to members of the committee, and welcome Chief Bosworth and Under Secretary Rey.
I am glad to be here for these gentlemen's respective testimony on the President's proposed budget for the Forest Service. Colorado has eleven National Forests in all areas throughout our great state. These lands provide great opportunities for Coloradans and all to experience natural wildlife.
My priorities for the Forest Service Budget for FY 2006 are clear: we must ensure that we provide appropriate funding for fire management and prevention and adequate maintenance of existing facilities and access roads. Also, we must ensure that it is affordable for our citizens to enter and enjoy our National Forests.
Last week, I was home in Colorado. I traveled over 2,000 miles and conducted 17 meetings with local leaders, elected officials, and citizens. During the week I repeatedly heard from Coloradans who have concerns about the President's budget and what it means for Colorado.
I am very concerned by the Administration's continued cuts to land management planning. The ongoing staffing shortages within the Forest Service prevent many National Forests from completing plan revisions. Staffing continues to decrease. The FY 2006 budget proposes a 30% reduction from FY 2005, or a cut of over 100 full time equivalents (employees).
At the same time, road maintenance continues to be a significant needed improvement for the Forest Service. In 2004, the Forest Service reported that deferred road maintenance needs were approximately $10 billion. Even with this backlog the agency continues to propose road building in roadless areas--principally for oil and gas development as well as commercial logging. My concern is that we maintain our existing roads before we start creating additional responsibilities that the
Forest Service has neither the resources nor the personal adequately to manage.
Finally, I am concerned by the Administration's continued lack of funding for the National Fire Plan. The FY 2006 budget proposes an 84% cut from the FY 2005 level for Rehabilitation and Restoration, an $88 million cut for Community Assistance and over $30 million in cuts for the monitoring of forest fire areas.
I am hopeful that we will have the opportunity to address these issues today with Chief Bosworth and Under Secretary Rey. Thank you.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Senator Salazar [presiding]. Let me say this. This is not the first time that I get to chair a meeting. Today I gave my
maiden speech on the floor talking about issues relating to rural America and I am delighted to have this opportunity to
ask you a few questions at this hearing and then we will go ahead and we will conclude the hearing. I have a Colorado-specific question to start out with and that has to do with the White River National Forest Management Plan. What I wanted to ask you about with respect to that plan and the revisions that have been made of that plan is why the changes were made.
I had some communication with some of your staff, with David Tenny this morning, and I look forward to the response to
the questions that we asked of him this morning.
But let me tell you what my concern is and see whether you can help me with this. The sense that I have gotten working on
this matter and hearing from my constituents in Colorado, in the northwestern part of the State, is that there was a tremendous amount of energy that went into the creation of the plan which was approved by Chief Bosworth back in 2002.
That plan was a plan that had involved thousands upon thousands of hours of public input. And the plan that frankly I
think the people in northwest Colorado felt good about and yet decisions that have been made on the revisions to that plan
seem to have come out of Washington without the kind of consultation and input from the local community that should
have been there.
And here is frankly my concern. My concern is that this is not the only revision of a national forest plan that we are
going to make. And so as we move forward, for example on the Gunnison or the Grand Mesa or any of our other forests in the
State of Colorado, what is it that is going to keep those forest management plans in place once the planning process has
been completed given what appears to be, at least from the ground at this point, an arbitrary and capricious decision
frankly by someone in Washington to simply say that the forest plan had already been approved by the Chief of the Forest
Service should be set aside?
So I would like either Chief Bosworth or Assistant Secretary Rey to respond to that question for me.
Mr. Rey. I would be happy to start and then the Chief can elaborate on that.
The way our planning process works is that once a plan is completed, notwithstanding how many people participated in the
comment period and how much public involvement there was, there is a right of administrative appeal.
The final decision to approve a plan is not made by the chief. It is made by the regional forester, in this case
Regional Forester Cables in Denver.
If the plan is appealed, the chief is the reviewing officer that has to review that appeal in accordance with our
regulations and issue a decision to either uphold or reverse and remand the plan back for further work.
In addition, if the appellants are dissatisfied with the chief's decision, they have the opportunity to seek a second
level of review at the department level, in my office, and either I or one of my deputies then becomes the second
reviewing official to review the plan.
In the case of the White River plan, there were a number of appellants. Those appeals were reviewed. The chief was the
first reviewing officer. He made a decision and upheld in part and remanded in part. Some appellants requested a second
review. My deputy, Dave Tenny, who you met with this morning, did that review and remanded on some additional issues.
But the remands are not revisions of the plan. Now the plan goes back to the forest supervisor and whatever changes are
subsequently made will go through a notice and comment period. And that is the way our regulations work.
So there is nothing arbitrary about it or capricious. Certainly, if somebody wants to challenge the outcome of the
proceeding, they have that right in Federal District Court and can avail themselves of that particular argument if they think
so. But it is an on-the-record review which has been completed now.
The next step will be for the forest supervisor to take both the decision of the Chief and the decision of Deputy Under
Secretary Tenny, make some changes to the plan in accordance with the remands, and then propose those changes for an
additional round of public comment.
Senator Salazar. I appreciate your explanation as to the process and I know the process well and I know how it works.
And I know ultimately the legal remedies that are available to somebody who is challenging the decisions that are being made.
In this particular circumstance, you have the chief of the Forest Service having made a decision on the plan and that
decision in part has been reviewed and changed by Deputy Secretary Tenny.
Can you summarize for me what the impetus was for those changes and the specific changes that he ordered to be made in
Mr. Rey. Sure. The impetus was that he was exercising the authority provided for in the Forest Service Appeals Regulations to undertake a review of a chief's decision.
The substance of them fell into two broad areas and we can give you a copy of the decision which would get much more
One went to how water rights issues are going to be addressed to bring the plan into consistency with the water
rights policy that we have subsequently developed with the State of Colorado through a Memorandum of Agreement.
The second was in regard to provisions to protect the lynx which is an introduced species in Colorado. And there again, we
wanted to bring the provisions of the plan in concert with the Southern Rockies conservation strategy that is being developed
for the lynx. We felt that the plan was at some variance with what was happening on other national forests.
What we think will result is a better mechanism for recognizing the State's role in water rights through the memorandum of understanding that was developed with Colorado. With regard to the lynx, we think we will end up with a better protection plan that will protect areas where the lynx truly occupies habitat.
Now both of those issues are going to be taken back to the forest. The plan will be amended accordingly and then the
public will have an opportunity to comment on whether they prefer this or whether they find it less desirable. But they
would not be excluded from that.
Senator Salazar. Let me make a comment. I think it is very important for you, Under Secretary Rey, or Chief Bosworth or
Deputy Under Secretary Tenny to go to Colorado and to explain what has happened here in the same way that you were explaining it to me here today.
Regarding the two substantive issues with respect to the decision, it seems to me that the direction of working with
Colorado to try to address the water issues and the values associated with a forest in recognition of state law and
working in concert with the Colorado Water Conservation Board is an important initiative for our country.
In years past, I had conversations with your predecessors about the fact that the Forest Service had spent some $70
million on litigation concerning reserved rights in my state, in the State of Colorado.
My suggestion at the time to the forest and USDA was that what we ought to do is to try to figure out ways in which we
could work in concert with the state agencies to try to protect those forest values because I thought that would be a much more cost-effective way. If we are spending millions of dollars in litigation, it seems to me it would be better to be spending
that money instead on improving the values that the forest seeks to improve.
Regarding the second matter relating to the lynx, what I understood from the meeting this morning is that with the
Southern Rocky Mountain plan that is under consideration, it was felt that it was better to integrate what was happening in
the White River National Forest with what is happening more regionally, I think more ecosystem wide, since I am sure the
lynx does not recognize the boundary of where the White River National Forest ends and where it does not.
So I think it is very important for the people in my State to understand what it is that is happening there. And so I
would ask you to participate with the individuals that I met with this morning in coming to Colorado and making sure that
there is this input from people up in the northwest part of Colorado.
I was in Routt County in the last several days and a number of ranchers and other people frankly were very upset about what had happened here because they felt that there was some political appointee in Washington, D.C. that was undoing years and years of work. There had not been, I think, the kind of explanation and communication with them that would have given them the understanding that you are giving here today.
Mr. Rey. We would be happy to do that. One of the advantages of these hearings is we get invited to Colorado and
New Mexico. It is a great opportunity.
Senator Salazar. We have a lot of snow in Colorado, so you are welcome to come up to the Steamboat.
Let me just ask one other question and then we will go ahead and close the hearing. And that has to do with the
streamlining proposal that you have on the time line for revisions on forest management plans.
I know that some of the questions that were asked by colleagues on the committee earlier had to do with the sense
that maybe it is taking too long. Your plan to try to get a revision to forest management plans in less time is an
important thing for everybody to look at, given the fact that most people think it now takes too long.
Talk to me just a little bit about what you are planning to do with respect to the streamlining of the effort on the
revisions of forest management plans, if you can, Chief Bosworth.
Mr. Bosworth. Yes. I would be happy to do that.
We have been operating under a regulation or rule in the development and revision of our forest plans. The most recent
rule was implemented in 1982. That is when the rule was established that we operate under now.
During that period of time, during the 1980's and the 1970's, we were doing entirely different kinds of work on
national forest lands. We had a very large timber harvest program. We were not into the fuels treatment like we are
today. We did not have the catastrophic wildfires that we have today.
Over time, it evolved where it was taking us 6 or 8 or 10 years to develop a revision because of all the processes we
were going through. We needed to revise our rule so that we could look more to the future rather than to deal with the
things we had been doing 20 years ago.
The threats that face our forests in the future are things like catastrophic wildfire and invasive species and an
increased recreation demand, loss of open space--some of those kinds of things.
So we need a rule that will help us move into the future and also will be a rule that we can engage the public in more
quickly and more effectively. And so that is what this rule does. There are several things that it will accomplish.
I believe one is that it will improve the citizens' ability to participate in the forest plan revisions because of the fact
that we will get them done quicker and people do not have to try to stick with it for 7 or 8 years.
The only people that can stick with it are those people who are being paid to by the timber industry or the livestock
industry or the environmental industry or someone. But a person down the street that just wants to go to the forest, they
cannot do that. They cannot stick with it for that long. So that will help citizen participation.
Also the rule requires adoption of an Environmental Management System which will be--for each forest, that will
require an independent audit each year of that forest and the implementation of that forest plan. That independent audit can
be done from outside the Forest Service or from outside the forest.
That will be done by folks that will look at what we have accomplished that year in terms of implementing the forest
plan, whether we did what we said we would do and whether we are getting the kinds of effects and outcomes that we said we would get.
It will give us an opportunity to increase the amount of monitoring that we are doing as we implement. We can then make
adjustments based upon what we learn together with the public about the implementation of those forest plans.
So I believe it will result in better environmental protection as well as better public participation.
Another aspect is that it has to be science based. These forest plans need to be based on the best science that is
available, on the best knowledge that we have about how ecosystems interact. It calls for science reviews and
consistency reviews of the work that we do in the development of the forest plan.
So it is a significant change from where it had been in the past. There will be discomfort, I think, in some areas until
people actually see how we are implementing them. I believe that people will like what they see after we have had a few
years of implementation.
Senator Salazar. What is the status of the rule at this point?
Mr. Bosworth. At this point, the rule has been finalized and we are in the process of training people so that they can
implement plan revisions under the new rule.
When we came out with a final rule, we also came out with another proposal that is out for public comment. That proposal
would be to categorically exclude forest plans from environmental impact statements.
In other words, we would still do environmental analysis,but we would not develop a whole array of alternatives. We
would work with the public to develop a forest plan, and when we make a decision to do a project and actually do a project on
the ground, that is when we would actually do the environmental impact statement.
Part of it is there is a big redundancy there. In our forest plans, we do not make a decision to do anything. We set
standards and guidelines and goals. The decision to do something on the ground is made on a project-by-project basis.
So that is the time when we need to do the environmental impact statement. And we believe we should be able to do a
categorical exclusion for the plan itself which would significantly reduce the amount of time and the cost on the up-
front side of doing a forest plan.
Senator Salazar. Thank you, Chief Bosworth.
I would appreciate being informed in Colorado as you move forward with the implementation of the rule and specifically
giving me and my office a heads up, if you will, as you move forward with any revisions on our national forests.
I think for most of us who sit on this committee, national forests are so important for us because they comprise so much
of the land mass of our state and they provide all the benefits that are provided to our respective States.
But being kept abreast of what is going on as you move forward with forest planning within our eleven forests in
Colorado is something that I very much would appreciate.
Mr. Bosworth. We would be happy to do that.
I should also point out that some cases, we have forests that are halfway or three-fourths of the way through developing
forest plans using the old rule. Those forests will continue. Some of those will complete their plan revision using the old
rule just simply because there are almost none.
That may be the case in some of Colorado's forests. We will be happy to keep you informed on which ones will be done using the new rule and the ones that are going to be completed under the old rule.
Senator Salazar. Under Secretary Rey and Chief Bosworth, I very much appreciate you coming here in front of the committee today and providing us the information.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Responses of the Forest Service to Questions From Senator Salazar
Land Management Planning
I am concerned about the Administration's continued cuts to land management planning. The ongoing staffing shortages within the Forest Service prevent many National Forests from completing plan revisions. Staffing continues to decrease. The FY 2006 budget proposes a 30% reduction from FY 2005, or a cut of over 100 full time employees. As you know, in 2000 the Rocky Mountain Region published a notice of intent to amend five national forest management plans in Colorado and one in Wyoming to establish guidance for conservation of Canada lynx. Unfortunately, this effort (Southern Rockies Lynx Amendment) has been delayed and has no specific deadline. Yet the multi-agency Canada Lynx Conservation Assessment and Strategy, which was published in 2000, demonstrated the need for planning and guidance to protect lynx in Colorado's national Forests.
Question 1. How will the cuts to land management planning in your Department affect staffing in Colorado? And how will those cuts affect completion of the Southern Rockies Lynx Amendment?
Answer. It is uncertain how the budget will affect staffing in Colorado. The Rocky Mountain Region is not currently planning
reductions in their planning staffs. However, the 2004 Planning Rule was developed in part to reduce the upfront costs of plan revision and shift more funds to monitoring and plan amendment. Were the lynx issue to arise today under the new planning rule the Forest Service would expect quicker incorporation of new science and new direction when needed for wildlife. The Rocky Mountain Region does expect the lynx amendments to be completed in FY 2006.
The President's FY 2006 budget would cut the very resources that are most effective at preventing the loss of homes in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) to wildfire. It seems that the only way to guarantee protection of homes in the WUI is to treat the immediate vicinity of those structures, and the structures themselves. Clearing the interior forest far from communities seems risky, as there is no predicting where the next lightening strike will be and a fire anywhere within two miles of a community can launch fire brands that shower an area with flaming debris, igniting anything they contact.
Yet, the President's FY 2006 budget continues to cut resources that would facilitate protection of this state and local assistance.
Question 2. Would you please explain the decision to cut this program further?
Answer. Efforts to reduce hazardous fuel within and adjacent to communities at risk from wildland fire are aimed at improving the chances that suppression will be effective. Reducing the flammability of structures and treating private lands directly adjacent to homes is one extremely important step in improving the odds of survivability.
Another important step is to make problem fire behavior rare or unlikely in the adjacent wildlands, and reducing the opportunity for problem fires to spread rapidly across the landscape. Reduction of hazardous fuel through thinning, cutting, burning and similar treatments is the best way to change expected fire behavior. These treatment efforts are not wasted in the forest interior, for they often meet multiple management objectives, reducing fuel while improving wildlife habitat, improving forest health or watershed values, restoring ecosystems, etc. While lightning ignitions are random, human caused starts from a variety of sources are somewhat less random, often associated with road access. Wildfire spotting potential is a concern, although spotting distance from a protection target like a community varies with the kind of trees and fuel in the adjacent forest, the lope and the position of the fire on that slope, and the wind speed and direction on the day of the fire. The funds available for the
hazardous fuel reduction program are not being cut, but have actually shown an increase in past years and into FY 2006. Local variability in funds may be due to shifting priorities geographically.
Energy Resources Development
In the FY 2006 Park (should say Forest) Service budget justification, the USFS states that the agency will continue to
emphasize leasing and development requests for oil, gas and geothermal energy with a ``particular emphasis'' (Sec. 7 pg. 59) on coalbed methane.
Question 3. Will the USFS also emphasie and make available the resources necessary for adequate oversight of the field operations of this energy development?
Answer. The Forest Service will continue to provide adequate oversight of field operations to ensure compliance with permit
requirements and strive to protect the environment.
Off Highway Vehicles
Chief Bosworth, in your testimony you mentioned the increase in use of off-highway vehicles (OHV) within National Forests and the negative impact they are causing on resources. You stated that the Forest Service is currently finalizing a rule for managing OHVs that will require each National Forest to undertake travel management planning that will specify what trails/roads are for ORV use and which are off-limits.
Question 4. Why, then, is there is no money allocated in the President's budget for implementation of this critical rule?
Answer. Better management of OHV use is one of the top priorities of the Forest Service and it is the agency's intent to accomplish this job within the funds available. A designated system of roads, trails, and areas will result in reduced environmental impacts, control over route proliferation, and a better and more sustainable experience for visitors.
Within the next few years, the Forest Service intends to complete route designation as quickly as possible. This process will depend on local planning in an open, collaborative process coordinated with state, local, and tribal governments, and commitments from both the agency and the public.
Question 5. If you are using funds from other accounts within the budget, how will the Forest Service account for its spending to implement this rule?
Answer. The Forest Service intends to fund route designation locally according to the primary purposes served. This is consistent with past practice in travel management, and with the agency accounting structure. Travel planning includes multiple steps and serves multiple purposes involving management of National Forest System roads and trails. Bringing motor vehicles onto a designated system protects water quality and wildlife habitat in addition to serving recreation visitors. Forest plan inventory and monitoring may also be a component. Work activities associated with the Forest Service's strategic goal on
Unmanaged Recreation, which includes implementation of the OHV rule, will be tracked in the Forest Service Work Planning system. That system will provide a sophisticated estimate of costs associated with attaining the strategic goal.
Capital Improvement and Maintenance
In your testimony Chief Bosworth, you stated that the backlog in deferred maintenance for deteriorating facilities continues to be a problem. You said that the budget proposes a new incentive-based approach to reduce the maintenance backlog for administrative sites and visitor centers. However, within the Budget Overview for the Forest Service (Sec. 9 pg. 1) it states that ``beginning in FY 2006, facility maintenance within the capital improvements program is limited to recreation sites.'' It goes on to say that maintenance of research, fire, administrative, visitor center, and all other facilities will be funded from a working capital fund (WCF).
Question 6. How will you prioritize the maintenance that is necessary and the funds that will used for this purpose?
Answer. Maintenance work that eliminates critical health and safety issues at administrative sites will be the highest priority use of these funds. Remaining funds will be used to eliminate maintenance issues that cause impairment of infrastructure function.
Forest Fees for Visitors
Chief Bosworth, you stated earlier that last year President Bush signed into law the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, which allows the Forest Service to charge modest fees at recreation sites which can be used to help maintain and improve the recreational experience of our visitors. You said, however, that the vast majority of recreation sites and services will continue to be free for most visitors (for activities such as horseback riding, walking, hiking, and general access to national forests and grasslands).
Question 7. How will you determine what activities may not remain free to visitors?
Answer. The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) provides well-defined criteria that must be met before a federal land management agency can collect a recreation enhancement fee. The FLREA generally provides criteria based on amenities that include facilities and services for the majority of recreation enhancement fee sites and areas, not based on activities. The special recreation fee permit category authorizes the collection of fees for certain activities, such as issuing outfitting and guiding permits and motorized recreation vehicle use.
The Forest Service in conjunction with the four other federal agencies (Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Reclamation) is developing policy and guidelines to implement the FLREA. Upon release of these guidelines this Spring 2005, all sites or areas that were previously charging recreation fees under fee demonstration authority will be evaluated for alignment with FLREA. Those sites not meeting the FLREA criteria will no longer have fees.