State Foresters concerned about Administration’s desire to reduce funding for state and private forestry programs

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After reviewing President Donald Trump’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 budget request, the National Association of State Foresters will expand its efforts within the Beltway to illustrate the long-term and far-reaching benefits of actively managed forests and the urgent need to invest in their health and resiliency.

Pleasant Valley Prescribed Fire South Dakota
Pleasant Valley prescribed fire, South Dakota, March, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Press release from the National Association of State Foresters)

WASHINGTON – The nation’s 59 state and territorial foresters were disconcerted this week by a presidential budget request for FY20 that asks for significant funding cuts to state and private forestry programs, which support much-needed management on nearly two-thirds of the nation’s forests.

When President Trump’s executive order to promote forest management nationwide was released in December, we were eager to work alongside the men and women of the USDA Forest Service to address the nation’s most pressing forest threats,” said Lisa Allen, NASF president and Missouri state forester. “But the president’s budget would eliminate or cut all but one Forest Service State and Private Forestry program and reduce investments in state and family forests to just 2.5 percent of the overall Forest Service budget.”

Per the president’s budget request for FY20, funding for the Forest Stewardship program, the Forest Health Management Program on Cooperative Lands, and the State and Volunteer Fire Assistance programs would be cut by a combined $29.65 million from FY19 enacted levels. Funding for the Landscape Scale Restoration, Forest Legacy, and Urban and Community Forestry programs would be eliminated.

“More than once the Trump administration has stated its support for rural America and its commitment to managing federal forests in partnership with state forestry agencies. Now, with this budget proposal, we see a direct contradiction,” said Jay Farrell, NASF executive director. “What we know for sure is that more work needs to be done throughout the Beltway to show all the benefits forests provide – better water quality, stronger industry, healthier families, and more – every day, for every American. Because without essential investments today in our forests, we simply won’t have them tomorrow.”

More information at Wildfire Today about how the Administration’s proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2020 which begins October 1, 2019 would affect wildland fire.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

11 thoughts on “State Foresters concerned about Administration’s desire to reduce funding for state and private forestry programs”

  1. Note: This is a letter I wrote to my two Pennsylvania Senators regarding aggressive forest management. The +$2.2 billion call for in the letter includes an additional +$97 million [above the 2018 level] for “federally assisted state programs in forest management [the Forest Stewardship Program]. The NASF should be very concerned about the 2020 President’s Proposed Budget [PPB] due in part to its glaring shortfall in forest management across all ownerships, along a complex rural to urban land gradient. The PPB for the Cooperative Programs should be a call to arms for concerned Americans that the lack of forest management is a defining landscape scale conservation issue of our time.

    April 15, 2019

    Senator Robert P. Casey:
    Senator Patrick J. Toomey Jr.:

    Over the past two years I have written you, other Members of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation, the President of the United States and Chairwoman Lowey and Chairman Shelby of the Appropriations Committees regarding the single most important landscape-scale conservation of our time. That is, “aggressive forest management to ensure effective fire management.” Simply put, the horrific wildland fires across America — especially over the last decade — are primarily due to a lack of forest management. And, we have the power to stop this terrible destruction. We have to somehow summon the will to change.

    To date, most of my words and pleas have fallen on deaf ears. It seems, regardless of your political stance or position of power, nobody really cares. Or, at least cares enough to do something about it.

    I could bore you with my experiences in land stewardship over the past half-century and strive to convince you that I know what I am talking about. But I doubt that would make any difference. So, this time I am going to appeal to your professionalism and sense of duty to America. That is, I am asking you – no, I am begging you – please do your job. Stand up and make the difference so the lives of people and their communities can be protected and the land they live on will no longer be destroyed by wildfires.

    Normally, you would read my letter and then have someone write a response that typically has little connection to my stated concern. Then, the issue is ignored and nothing happens. Again, I am begging you: do your job and, with your colleagues, provide the required resources so America’s forestlands along a complex rural to urban gradient can become healthy, sustainable and wildfires eventually become a tool of conservation. Yes, it will take time – a campaign if you will. But we must take that collective first step now.

    It has been almost 20 years since I helped write the National Fire Plan. Unfortunately, not much has changed since then. In fact, land conditions have deteriorated. For example, in 2001 when “Managing the Impacts of Wildfires on Communities and the Environment” [the National Fire Plan] was written, there was an estimated 38 million acres on our National Forests considered to be at high risk from destructive wildfires. Today, the estimate is 80 million acres [some estimate as much as 90 million acres]. So, after spending about $5 billion on hazardous-fuels treatments since 2001, there are an additional 42 million acres at high risk. To overstate the obvious: you cannot address a problem of this magnitude with such excessively inadequate resources.
    Minimally, the United States Forest Service – a land management agency in the Department of Agriculture — needs about +$2.2 billion annually for the next 5-7 years so forests can become more resilient to disturbances through active management. The gap in lost forest management work that has been created over the past two decades, by shifting resources to fire suppression, must be restored.

    I know you are well aware of the incredible destruction caused by wildfires. Last year, especially in the western part of the country, the impacts of large, high intensity fires were horrific. Unfortunately, the 2018 fire season was not that much different than many of the prior years. Some are calling the current situation the “new normal.” I completely reject that notion because what is happening now does not need to happen. You must reject this “new normal” concept as well.

    By most standards the results of the National Fire Plan have not materialized as planned; fires are larger and more intense and suppression costs are higher than ever before. Part of the problem includes the impacts a changing climate. When the original report was drafted, climate change was not considered at the level it should have been. Long-term, severe weather patterns have made much of America’s forests vulnerable to disturbances with longer, more intense fire seasons. And, the continued expansion of the “Wildland-Urban Interface”, whereby development and fire prone wildland vegetation come face to face, makes protecting lives and property from wildfires a very dangerous and expensive proposition. However, without a doubt the most dominant single factor that is causing the recent wildfires to be so catastrophic is the lack of forest management.

    When I look at the 2019 Forest Service funding in the recently passed Omnibus Spending Bill and the 2020 President’s Proposed Budget, I see decreases for the dominant problem – the lack of forest management; unbelievable! In my previous letters I have provided an investment strategy for the +$2.2 billion required by the Forest Service. As an example, one of these items is +$33 million for biomass uses that includes leading-edge innovations like wood-based nanotechnology and their associated markets to better utilize low value wood, such as hazardous fuel.

    It is estimated that a strong, well-established program in cost-effective biomass uses could create high-value markets from low-value wood [e.g., hazardous fuels] that could reasonably help restore up to 19-20 million forested-acres annually. About one-half of the nation’s 885 million acres of forestland currently requires some type of restorative action. This pace and scale of restoration could reduce future fire suppression costs in the range of 12-15 percent (some suggest as high as 23 percent) — about $750 million based on the nation’s total wildfire suppression costs in 2018. Simply put, it makes good economic sense to aggressively invest in biomass uses to help achieve more resilient forests. An annual investment of +$33 million in biomass uses would represent about two firefighting shifts.

    It seems unfathomable to me that Congress will advocate spending a million dollars an hour to fight fires [with no end in sight], but will not adequately invest to secure the sustainable future of America’s forests. Without increases in forest management funding, things are going to get worse; much worse. Fires will become larger, more intense and more destructive. To some, +$2.2 billion may seem significant. In reality, this amount is small when compared to the annual losses America’s taxpayers are facing each year in wildfire-related damages to our country’s infrastructure, public health, and natural resources — $70 to $350 billion. Let there be no doubt, the benefits to costs resulting from aggressive forest management are enourmous.

    On December 21, 2018, the President signed an Executive Order [EO] entitled, “Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands, and other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk.” The EO could help bring badly needed attention to forest management and its influence on wildfires. However, with the current and proposed budget levels for forest management activities – timber harvesting; thinning; hazardous fuel removals; innovations for biomass uses – the EO simply represents wasted words. What an important opportunity foregone. What a shame.

    Early indications suggest that 2019 will be another terrible year in terms of wildfire destruction. However, we cannot allow some of the recent statements like “…wildfires are the new normal” to provide a convenient excuse for maintaining the status quo. I once said, “…one of these days, a hundred people are going to get killed by wildfire before someone finally wakes up.” Looks like I was wrong. The 2018 fire season is already a distant memory is too many minds. Please, do not be one that has forgotten. You must help deploy a national consciousness. Your leadership in securing healthy forests will be an endearing legacy.

    Please, let me repeat in my plea for common sense: the current wildfire situation, and the devastation that is taking place year after year, does not have to be this way. The lack of sustained forest management is the primary culprit. We can fix this, starting now. I urge you and your Congressional colleagues to begin to emphasize, with new funding, “…aggressive forest management to ensure effective fire management.” As you secure these additional funds, please understand that forest management takes time. I have often said, “this needs to be a campaign of our campaign.” We have to be patient. Further, all lands across all ownerships must be addressed. For example, the lack of management on federal lands made the situation in California in 2018 far worse.

    I suspect the tone of this letter may seem harsh. It is based on my frustration that nothing has changed for so long, in spite of pleas from so many. Frankly, I want you to be frustrated about this concern, as well. I would like to close by repeating: uncontrollable wildfires due to the lack of forest management is the conservation issue of our time. What is happening does not need to happen. We need the awareness, support and action by you and all your associates to change this destructive cycle so American lives, their communities, and the landscapes where they live can be protected.

    Very respectfully,

    Michael T. Rains

    1. The one the worse wildfires in CA during 2018 was caused by PG&E and no other outside source! The fire destroyed a town and burnt thousands of acres of forest costing millions, if not billions!
      The Governor of CA is allowing and passing this cost onto the users of power from PG&E. We all know the sole reponsible party!
      Another issue is controlled burns, by the USDA. Which has cost the taxpayers billions and contributing to the lost of hundreds of thousands of acres probably more into millions, not including homes, equipment, and people’s lost by there lack of controlled burns!
      Yes, we need better forest management, but question is by whom?! Throwing more money at it isn’t always the answer!

    2. Hi Michael,

      I’m a freelance journalist currently researching for a new story on wildfires and land management in New Jersey. I’d love to speak with you. Please shoot me an email if you’re interested. You can reach me at

      Thank you,

  2. This is deeply disheartening from my perspective as a private lands forester employed by a state government. Our program has already been under-staffed and underfunded for decades, and eliminating Federal support for our program might be the death blow. As a public servant, we choose this job and career because we enjoy the work and the service; if we were looking for higher earnings, we could easily earn twice as much in this particular region through private consulting.

    This budget proposal mirrors what is happening on the state level here, so it isn’t a total shock. If anything, investment in private lands forest management needs to INCREASE, as most privately-held forests are NOT well-managed and could benefit from the services that private lands foresters offer. From a long-term economic standpoint this makes sense: catastrophic wildfire risk will be reduced (in applicable areas), growth and productivity will increase (boosting the overall economy of the region/nation), and multiple-use objectives will be enhanced.

  3. Thanks for your comments. Don’t give up. You have a very informed voice. Enable it to rumble when you can.

    Very respectfully,

  4. In Utah lightning strikes were turned into “controlled Burns”. The forest service repeatedly stated that these fires were being watched, controlled, to reach the desired effect of burning just things that need to be removed. Despite protests from locals and warnings of upcoming winds and a high drought these “controlled burns” continued. These controlled Burns got out of hand. Nearly 1/2 million acres were destroyed.When I discussed it with the forest service they said that the people who determine when to do controlled Burns had done a very good job. I guess they’re right cuz we’re not going to have a forest fire for the next 300 years in those areas because everything is burned completely off. Anyone who wants to argue my statement look at the East side of Mount loafer. There is literally no for us of any kind left standing. The sad thing is there is no way that we the public can influence or remove incompetent people in these positions.

  5. This is the President’s third budget proposal with big S&PF cuts. The first two years he zeroed out Urban, Legacy and Landscape Scale Restoration but kept Stewardship and Forest Health mostly whole. This year he’s biting into the latter two programs as well. Luckily, each year Congress has restored all or most of recent funding levels. Hoping it will be the same scenario this year.

    I think Michael Raines contribution is inherently a great letter, but to me confusing that he’s using fire prevention as nearly the only argument in support of maintain or growing private forestry assistance. Maybe I’ll stand corrected, but the large, nearly uncontrollable fires he cites are mostly caused by no management and resultant fuel build ups on public lands in the west, not private lands. The letter following Mr. Raine’s letter was also good in that it at least mentions the conservation of mostly traditional forest benefits in its argument for maintaining or growing S&PF funding. “Growth and Productivity” cited by anonymous is often a welcome and respected argument in any other subject matter related to an earth resource…..why not in forestry? Although fire is the most noticeable, and literally eye catching issue, the other problems were having is just as important. Exotic and native invasive species are the east coast’s wildfires, with cumulative damage rivaling the western fires.

  6. Stop crying wolf!!! Sounds like the USDA just needs to tighten it’s belt like most government agenices should!

  7. The country’s broke you’re going to have to suck it up and learn to do more with less.

    1. Mr. Puddy:

      Let’s return at the end of the 2019 fire season and compare notes. My estimate: about $5 billion will be spent on fire suppression. And, in 2020, probably more. With some restorative actions, this trend to stop. As per the earlier comment, not “crying wolf.” See for yourself. Take a look at the past decade+ and witness some of the impacts in lives lost; soil erosion; flooding; infrastructure destroyed; health decline due to smoke; fire suppression costs; etc. I simply do not believe we can continue to ignore the No. 1 land conservation issue of the 21st Century. After 30 years of striving to do more with less due to shifts for the fire effort, it just may be time to seek another solution.

      Very respectfully,

  8. Michael – Good letter! It sure is frustrating – after all the years of promoting active forestry it seems most don’t care! While reading your letter it occurred to me, as You/”we” suggest more forest management for the answer and can’t understand when others don’t agree with us – even after 40-50 years of our enlightened explanations – I wonder why? The answer is unknown to me. Just yesterday I visited a client – the owner of 200 acres of woodland here in NJ. I had written a comprehensive forest management plan for him about four year’s ago prescribing active management – if he follows the plan he gets reduced taxes and a stewardship sign. He put the sign up but did not follow the plan. I posed the question,”W– Craig – you paid good $ but didn’t follow it – why?’ He said, “I don’t know what forest management means and it all looks pretty and green to me! I thought if I had a plan , a sign and didn’t develop the farm I would be a good steward?’
    So the point being and perhaps something that I should have known as a critical impasse is every time we try to make a case for forest management we must make sure the listener knows and appreciates the “nitty-gritty”/ “nuts and bolts” of what forest management is made of and how it is archived. Carry on and best regards, Les Alpaugh

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