February 22nd, 2012 by

Credit: Wayne National Forest/Flickr

Children are taught that sharing is a good thing, but what if the thing you’re sharing is really complex and you’re trying to share it with a lot of people? That’s what the federal budget feels like to me. Since President Obama released the fiscal year 2013 budget last week, Capitol Hill has been abuzz with hearing after hearing to examine the proposed figures. With anticipated cuts across the board, agencies are preparing to operate under even tighter budgets. Running a government agency with fewer dollars sounds like a daunting task, but leave it to the folks at the USDA Forest Service to come up with a solution.

The Forest Service is using collaboration as the key to using their funds most efficiently. The agency plans to rearrange funding proposed in the budget to create more integrated agency efforts. By opening up Forest Service funds so that they can be applied to more programs within the agency, it will help streamline large-scale efforts such as reducing wildfire risk and integrating climate-change strategies. One example, says Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell, is to create a timber sales program alongside stewardship contracts for forest thinning. The pilot for this agency-wide cohesive strategy is called the Integrated Resource Restoration (IRR) program, and it’s already being used in three of the nine Forest Service regions.

The IRR program is also listed in a Forest Service report, released earlier this month, which outlines strategies to increase the pace of restoration work and create more jobs. It seems like a great strategy to reduce wildfire risk and provide important ecosystem services, but it may take a little longer before IRR becomes the agency norm. Congress and environmental groups are asking that more analysis be done to measure the success of the program before it goes national.