Tester: Proposed Forest Service Budget Will Make Montana a Different Place
Senator Grills Forest Service Chief Over Proposed Cuts to Wildfire Suppression, Trail Maintenance, Outdoor Recreation, and LWCF
(U.S. Senate) - U.S. Senator Jon Tester today slammed efforts to cut critical resources from the U.S. Forest Service and undermine Montana's growing outdoor economy.
Tester grilled U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell during an Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing over the White House's proposed cuts to wildfire suppression, road and trail maintenance, outdoor recreation, outfitter and guide permitting, and the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Tester told Tidwell that these damaging cuts will make it easier to transfer management of federally-owned public lands to individual states, making it easier to sell them to millionaires and billionaires.
"There is a movement in this country to sell our public lands," Tester told Tidwell. "This budget gives more ammunition to the short-sighted people out there who want to sell our public land. They want to do away with our outdoor economy, and they want to make Montana into a different place."
After telling Tidwell that the proposed U.S. Forest Service budget was a "wreck," Tester made a plea to Tidwell to speak "truth to power" about the true impacts the President's budget will have on Montana's $6 billion outdoor recreation economy and the more than 64,000 jobs it supports.
The White House's proposed 2018 budget slashes $850 million from the U.S. Forest Service Budget, including:
- $192 million cut to wildfire suppression efforts.
- $254 million cut to hazardous fuel reduction.
- $364 million cut to facility, road, and trail infrastructure improvements and maintenance.
- $12 million cut to recreation and special use permitting processes.
- Eliminating funding for the Forest Legacy Program, which helps develop public access conservation easements.
- $47 million cut to eliminate efforts to increase public access to public lands.
The cost of wildfire suppression has tripled over the past 30 years. Wildfire prevention efforts cost 16 percent of the U.S. Forest Services' budget in 1995, 52 percent in 2015, and are projected to cost 67 percent in 2025. The rising cost of wildfires has directly lead to a 68 percent reduction in facility maintenance, a 15 percent cut to recreation, and an 18 percent cut to wildlife and fish habitat management.
"There is debate in Congress on whether we should treat wildfires as natural disasters, and I think we should," Tester added. "And we ought to just admit that fire seasons are getting more intense and they are getting longer, and if we can just free up more dollars for the Forest Service in the next 10 years we can bring the fire risk down."
Tester has sponsored bipartisan legislation to pay for catastrophic wildfires through separate emergency funding, allowing the U.S. Forest Service to devote more resources to proactive forest management.
Tidwell also told Tester that the proposed budget will make it more challenging for Montana outfitters and guides to get permits in a timely fashion.