By Josh DeLacey
President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2014 budget recommendations on Wednesday, and with only a few disappointments, the budget shows dedicated support for forestland health and federal conservation programs.
To keep sequester cuts from inflicting more damage, the president’s budget is based on FY2012 funding levels, a decision American Forests has advocated in favor of. The sequester put FY2013 funding too low for adequate conservation, and we have seen the consequences in national park closures and underfunded wildfire management. Moving forward, responsible conservation requires — at a minimum — a return to full FY2012 funding levels, and we are happy to see the administration recognize this need.
Specifically, the budget recommends fully funding the U.S. Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program (CFLR), which is restoring millions of acres of forestland across 23 project sites. As a member of the CFLR Coalition’s steering committee, American Forests is especially pleased that this bipartisan, community-based program has the administration’s support. The president’s budget also requests to restore pre-sequester funding for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Public Domain Forest Management, another important program.
But the president’s budget does more than just restore past funding levels: It also requests increased support for some of the government’s most vital conservation programs across federal agencies. For instance, the administration wants to increase funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System, which American Forests has worked closely with through various Global ReLeaf projects. Our most significant partnership is in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, one of North America’s most biologically diverse areas, where we have helped plant more than 1.5 million trees in the last 15 years. Other key programs whose funding the administration wants to increase include the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the national park system and the BLM’s national monuments and conservation areas.
Additionally, the president’s budget requests $10 million to establish the Urban Parks and Recreation Fund, a resource that American Forests is very excited about, as it would expand the environmental, social and economic value of urban forests. More than 84 percent of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, and they all stand to benefit from an increased focus on greening cities and suburbs.
Despite its good points, though, the president’s budget is not perfect. It decreases funding for the Urban and Community Forestry program by $6 million, limiting the technical, financial and educational assistance that the program offers to thousands of communities throughout the U.S. The National Recreation and Preservation program and the Recreation, Heritage and Wilderness program also face budget reductions.
But aside from those disappointments, American Forests is very pleased with the president’s budget. However, this budget is not set in stone. Next, in the coming months, Congress will examine it amid various other input to determine the appropriation funding levels for FY2014. But with the president’s budget restoring FY2012 funding levels for conservation, the prognosis is very promising. The administration has clearly indicated that forest health and conservation are priorities that deserve increased support.