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Public Statements

Letter to Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Chair Jack Reed and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski - Urges Appropriations Committee to Prioritize Forest Management Over Land Acquisition

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) today led an effort to send a letter to Senators Jack Reed (D-RI.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, urging the Senators to prioritize pine beetle forest management over land acquisition when they draft the Fiscal Year 2014 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill.

President Obama's 2014 budget proposal recommended significant increases in land acquisition at a time when the Forest Service owns millions of acres in need of management and has a maintenance backlog of over $6 billion for roads, trails, campgrounds, and visitors centers. Additionally, the president's 2014 budget proposed a 15 percent reduction in timber offer levels, which will result in the loss of over 7,000 jobs in some of the poorest counties in America. Thune's letter calls on Congress to help the Forest Service properly care for the land it currently owns instead of authorizing acquisition funding to acquire more land.

Thune's other efforts to fight pine beetle infestations and improve forest health include introduction of S. 661, the Emergency Forest Rehabilitation and Restoration Act, on March 22, 2013, which would restrict the Forest Service from purchasing additional land for the next five fiscal years and use those funds that would have been used for acquisition to finance the increased timber harvest.

The text of the Senators' letter is below:

_

April 25, 2013

Senator Jack Reed
Chairman
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on
Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Senator Lisa Murkowski
Ranking Member
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on
Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Reed and Senator Murkowski:

We write today to encourage you to prioritize forest management over land acquisition as you begin drafting the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill.

The condition of our federal forestlands continues to deteriorate. Over the past 10 years, bark beetle epidemics and wildfires have devastated millions of acres of forestland. Large landscapes of dead and infested trees pose a significant threat of forest fires. However, the land managed by the Forest Services continues to grow year after year. Over that same 10-year period, the Forest Service has acquired an additional 700,000 acres at a cost of $580 million.

In order to address these conditions, it is critical the Forest Service meet its previously stated goal of harvesting at least three billion board feet of timber in FY 2014. Responsible timber harvests reduce the risk of catastrophic fires, improve the health of our forests, and slow the spread of insect infestations such as the Mountain Pine Beetle. Unfortunately, the President's budget request would only result in a timber harvest of 2.38 billion board feet in FY 2014. Not only does that fall short of the administration's goal, it would also result in a reduction from the 2.8 billion board feet of projected timber harvest in FY 2013.

As you know, the administration's budget also requests $58 million in discretionary funding for Forest Service land acquisitions, which is a $5 million increase over FY 2013 levels, and $34 million in mandatory funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), for a combined total of $92 million. During a period of unsustainable deficits and rapid forest health deterioration, we believe the limited amount of taxpayer dollars under the committee's jurisdiction would be better utilized managing the land already under the Forest Service's purview rather than increasing federal land ownership.

Surprisingly, along with the administration's budget request for additional funding for Forest Service land acquisitions the Forest Service budget also suggests a 17.9 percent decrease in capital improvement and maintenance (CI&M) spending. The agency is already facing a $6 billion backlog in maintaining its roads, trails, campgrounds, and visitors' centers. We should not be diverting scarce resources to acquire more land when existing facilities are not being maintained adequately.

Congress should help the Forest Service properly care for the land it currently owns before authorizing it to acquire more. Therefore, we respectfully request that you consider reducing funding for land acquisitions and redirect that funding to help meet the administration's goal of harvesting three billion board feet in FY 2014.

Thank you for your consideration of this request, and we look forward to working with you to improve the health of our forests in a fiscally responsible manner.

Kindest Regards,

Senator John Thune
Senator Orrin Hatch


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