Forest Maintenance Projects Cut Back Due to Budget Clawback
Remember the sequester? The dust is finally settling and the consequences becoming real for a program in the U.S. Forest Service that sends money to timber counties.
At the beginning of sequestration, the Forest Service demanded that rural counties pay back some of the timber payments they'd already received and spent. But all of the recipients of the federal aid refused to go along with the approach to across-the-board federal budget cuts.
So the Forest Service is instead taking the cut out of money still under its own control. The targeted funds pay for road and trail maintenance and conservation projects.
In Port Angeles, Clallam County administrator Jim Jones says it feels like "one step forward, one step back."
"I think ultimately the recreating public who would go out and use those roads and those trails on the national forest will see less upkeep," said Jones. "That's probably in the long run negative, but the other reality is if you don't have the money to spend, you can't do the work."
Asked for a specific example, Jones says the Forest Service canceled a contract for a county jail chain gang, which would have performed trail work in the Olympic National Forest this year.
In Oregon, Mt. Hood National Forest spokesperson Laura Pramuk says it's very difficult to gauge how many temporary jobs disappeared in the region due to the project cancellations, but the impact is "probably not insignificant."
In her domain, Pramuk says projects that had to be pulled back included forest thinning to improve ecosystem health, habitat restoration on a creek near Zigzag, and culvert replacements on forest roads in Hood River County. She says about two-thirds of the previously approved 2013 spending under the Secure Rural Schools Act, Title II was cancelled in the Mount Hood and Willamette National Forests.
Oregon receives more than any other state under the Secure Rural Schools funding formula. So it also took the biggest hit when the sequestration budget knives came out. The Forest Service rescinded about $3.9 million it planned to spend in Oregon forests. That compares to about $1.7 million cut in Idaho and $1.3 million in Washington state.
"The pressure on the Forest Service is immense," said independent research forester Dale Waddell. "It is not a happy situation."
Waddell says the cancellation of large numbers of job-creating projects is bound to put more focus on Congressional efforts to "get some harvesting revenue into those rural counties" by increasing logging.
Waddell is based in the foothills of Clackamas County, Oregon. He chaired an advisory committee that recommended which maintenance and conservation projects the Mount Hood and Willamette National Forests should fund.