American Forests’ policy work focuses on congressional action, federal regulations and our membership advocacy. In Washington Outlook, senior director of Programs and Policy, Rebecca Turner, shares what we’ve been up to on the Hill and what we hope to accomplish. Many of our longtime readers will recognize this format as a return to the classic Washington Outlook of the 1930s, 1970s and early 2000s. What follows is a synopsis of our work from May through October, 2013. For the most current work, and to send letters to your elected officials on a range of critical issues, check out our policy work at www.americanforests.org/policy and our Action Center at www.americanforests.org/action-center.
Appropriations: Urban Forests and Forest Legacy
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies put forth a fiscal year 2014 bill supporting some of our priorities while defunding others. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program was funded at $35 million. However, the Urban and Community Forestry (U&CF) program was omitted from the bill and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which supports the Forest Legacy program, was zeroed out despite the efforts of forest supporters like you who signed our letter to Congress. While there was no movement on this bill by the full Appropriations Committee, it did serve to show us and our partners the work that still needs to be done to make our priorities heard.
Armed with this knowledge, our partners in the Sustainable Urban Forest Coalition implemented a strategic plan to ensure the reinstatement of the U&CF program, and our LWCF coalition did the same. We met with key members of the Appropriations Committee throughout the fall, explaining our interests in these programs and the benefits they bring. As of this writing, the FY 2014 Appropriations Bill is being negotiated. We are hopeful that our work will result in funding allocated to U&CF and LWCF.
Fire Suppression Funding
American Forests has been working on wildfire issues since our founding in 1875. It is a complex and difficult issue that raises numerous questions: What fires should be allowed to burn, which ones need to be suppressed and how can we protect lives and structures while keeping within budget? Congress allocates funding for wildfire prior to knowing how serious the following year’s fire season will be. When the costs are greater than what was allocated, the U.S. Forest Service must transfer funds from other program areas to cover the gap. This practice, which transferred $440 million in FY 2012 and $600 million in FY 2013, hampers the Forest Service’s ability to meet its mission. Fire transfers can halt important forest management activities that can help reduce future fire risk and suppression costs. Congress must then vote to reallocate funds to the Forest Service, sometimes at the expense of the following year’s budget. Included in the bill to reopen the federal government was the allocation of the $600 million the Forest Service had to transfer.
This current practice is not effective and American Forests is working with our partners in the Partner Caucus on Fire Suppression Funding Solutions, the Forest Service and congressional members to find a more sustainable solution to funding fire suppression.
The Farm Bill
Many conservation programs, forestry issues and rural development authorization that American Forests cares about are affected by this important bill. Both the Senate and the House passed versions of the Farm Bill last summer and as of this writing, the conferees from both the House and Senate are negotiating the version of the bill that will move on to the President’s desk. Along with members of the Forests in the Farm Bill Coalition, American Forests is meeting with conferees’ staff to ensure our priorities remain in the final bill.
Climate Action Plan
Along with the Forest Climate Working Group, American Forests has been meeting with key administration officials discussing the important role forests should play in the President’s Climate Action Plan, which he introduced last summer. The platform this coalition has originally endorsed includes providing sound data and science to understand how forests are impacted by climate change and how they can increase their carbon sequestration; promoting the use of forest products and supporting markets for carbon and other ecosystem services; enhancing resources for private forest owners; utilizing existing federal grant programs to retain forests; and developing landscape-scale approaches and collaborations.
Rebecca turner writes from Washington, D.C., and is American Forests’ senior director of programs and policy.