U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today said the U.S. Forest Service budget proposal was more suitable for the National Park Service than an agency responsible for managing the nation's 193 million acres of forests and grasslands.
"Management under this proposed budget is focused on tourism and recreation and ecosystem values such as wildlife habitat. I agree these are important, but the fundamental tenet of multiple-use also includes the development of our natural resources," Murkowski said. "And in Southeast Alaska, and I know in many rural communities across the West, harvesting timber is still the economic lifeblood."
Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on Tuesday questioned U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell on the agency's 2014 budget proposal, which includes a 15 percent reduction in proposed timber sales.
"Our national forests are increasingly being managed like national parks -- areas in which no timber harvesting is permitted," Murkowski said. "The Forest Service must return to its multiple-use mission. The economic viability of hundreds of communities located next to national forests depends on the responsible production of our timber resources."
The Forest Service budget requests $4.9 billion in discretionary spending -- a $6 million decrease from its current budget. Nearly half of the Forest Service's budget request (42 percent) is for firefighting activities.
Murkowski called out the Forest Service for requesting a 72 percent increase in funding to purchase new lands while it is cutting funding for timber sales and has a $6 billion maintenance backlog on its existing properties. (Video here.)
Murkowski also criticized the decision to re-impose the roadless rule in Alaska's Tongass National Forest, saying the restrictions are making it nearly impossible to build needed transmission lines to deliver abundant and affordable renewable energy to local communities. Murkowski said she would personally give Forest Service Chief Tidwell a tour of the impacted Southeast Alaska communities. (Video here.)
"The economic wellbeing of Southeast Alaska -- and many small towns across the West -- is wholly dependent on the active management of our national forest lands," Murkowski said. "This budget raises the very real question of whether those communities have a future under this administration."
The Forest Service manages more than 22 million acres of national forest lands in Alaska, including nearly all of the land in Southeast. That is more acres than the entire 52 national forests located in the eastern and southern United States.
Murkowski's opening statement can be viewed here. Full video of the hearing can be viewed on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee website.