August 15th, 2012 by

House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee at a FY 2013 budget hearing. Credit: USDAgov/Flickr

Last fall, the Congressional Supercommittee failed to reach a final deficit reduction plan. If Congress doesn’t come up with a solution again this year; government programs are going to see some devastating budget hits. It can be hard to see how federal budget cuts impact our daily lives, but to give you an idea, this series of cuts could result in reduced functions within our agriculture industry, national parks and even weather service. That’s what happens during a budget sequestration — a series of across-the-board cuts to federal programs. And if this happens, the U.S. Forest Service’s budget could be reduced by 10 percent starting as soon as January 2013!

It’s doubtful that Congress will address the budget deficit situation until after the November election. But if they wait that long, there isn’t much time left in 2012 for them to figure out a budget plan. If Congress fails to agree on a federal budget-reduction plan in the next few months, we may face a budget sequestration starting in 2013. After receiving bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, President Obama signed off on the Sequestration Transparency Act late last month, formalizing a $1.2 trillion budget cut to domestic and defense programs over the next 10 years. This act will go into effect in 2013 if Congress is unable to agree on another way to address the federal deficit and would consist of automatic cuts for federal funding across all agencies and programs. Only a few programs would be spared  from these cuts, such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

So what kind of impact would these budget cuts have on our national forest and land-management agencies? The cuts would begin on January 2, 2013, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) could be asked to cut up to $2.2 billion in discretionary program spending for FY 2013. That’s a 10 percent cut in the USDA budget! Falling under the USDA umbrella, a 10 percent cut for the U.S. Forest Service budget would equate to $486 million. This would have a significant impact on all of the agency’s work, including wildfire management, recreational trail maintenance, conservation projects, invasive species management, wildlife habitat restoration and the jobs associated with this work.

The Sequestration Transparency Act requires the agencies to supply the administration with a detailed report of the proposed budget cuts by the first week of September, so we should know what’s on the chopping block in the next month. Our land-management agencies are already operating under tight budgets, so I really hope I don’t have to see what happens after another slash to their budgets.