USA: How will Obama forests be affected by Stimulus Bill?

After debates in both the House and Senate and funding reductions in
conference, the final economic stimulus package gives close to $1.5
billion to the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) for watershed restoration, road maintenance and decommissioning,
infrastructure improvements, and hazardous fuels reduction projects to
be spent over the next two years.

For more information, contact Anne Martin at

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced an amendment to the stimulus
bill to increase funds to the National Park Service, BLM, US Fish and
Wildlife Service, and US Forest Service to provide funding for an
additional 45,000 jobs, many in rural communities, to restore wildlife
habitat, clean up abandoned mines and other public safety hazards,
remove or rehabilitate damaging roads, make buildings energy
efficient, and meet other backlogged restoration, fuels reduction, and
maintenance needs. This amendment was defeated by voice vote.

The Senate defeated Senator John Barrasso’s (R-WY) amendment that
would have essentially waived the National Environmental Policy Act
(NEPA) review for projects funded in the economic stimulus bill.
Instead, the Senate passed an amendment introduced by Senator Barbara
Boxer (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works
Committee, to maintain the integrity of NEPA and sustain the federal
government’s commitment to a healthy environment and the public’s
right to evaluate and mitigate the impacts of major projects. The Boxer amendment also requires reporting to Congress every 90 days
about the NEPA reviews of the projects funded under the stimulus.
NEPA’s value is to provide public input into major federal decisions
and to require the federal government to consider alternatives when a
decision will negatively impact the environment. NEPA also requires
full disclosure of the potential impacts of proposed development
projects on America’s public lands and its citizens.

While there are opportunities for good projects, the bill language
emphasizes maximizing the number of jobs created and gives agencies
flexibility on using the funds. The Forest Service is moving very
quickly to identify “shovel ready” projects that have the NEPA
analysis completed. The Forest Service DC headquarters has given
regional offices until February 20 to submit lists of priority
projects, and they will make decisions in a few weeks (we are not
aware of the BLM timeline).

Importantly, the final bill includes specific direction from Congress that a portion of the funds be used for reducing the over-built, severely under-maintained roads system through decommissioning. Conservation groups should engage in project selection and implementation and prioritize road decommissioning, fish passage, and wildlife connectivity projects; as well as hazardous fuel reduction projects close to communities at risk. American Lands strongly supports spending 60 percent of the Capital Improvement and Maintenance funds for road decommissioning. For a breakdown on funding for the Forest Service and BLM click here.

Click here:
to read the final bill language from the House Congressional Record
(BLM is on page H1420 and Forest Service is on page H1421).

Comments (1)

Mt. Hood NF Activists on StimulusFebruary 25th, 2009 at 11:40 am

January 1st, 2009

Forest initiative puts Mt. Hood on radar

Decaying Forest Service logging roads are marked for restoration in an initiative attached to the Economic Stimulus Package currently being planned by Congress and President-elect Obama’s transition team.

The Legacy Roads Restoration Initiative would create a $500 million Forest Watershed Restoration Corps within the National Forest Service. Included in the initiative would be major funding for the Mount Hood National Forest.

Road restoration is key to the environment, according to Deb Wechselblatt, Restore Mount Hood campaign manager at Bark, a Portland-based environmental group dedicated to preserve forests, waters and wildlife in the Mount Hood National Forest.

“The first and most important step toward protecting clean drinking water, productive fisheries and critical wildlife habitat is to take care of the crumbling road system,” Wechselblatt said. “The Watershed Restoration Corps will reduce risks to drinking watersheds for all communities surrounding Mount Hood.”

It is estimated the Forest Service has a backlog of $10 billion in road maintenance. The Corps would invest $250 million annually for two years reclaiming roads that are no longer needed, fixing culverts and performing critical maintenance on needed roads to ensure long-term access for resource management and the public.

“Mount Hood National Forest has over 4,000 miles of roads, half of which the Forest Service has recommended be decommissioned” Wechselblatt said. “Roads need maintenance and maintenance costs money. Decommissioning unneeded roads will save millions, if not billions, of taxpayer dollars in the long run.”

The planned funding will create work for excavators, bulldozers, inspectors, engineers and staffing opportunities within the Forest Service.

“These are exciting times, when people can get past the polarization that has challenged public land management for so long,” Wechselblatt said. “After all those jobs-versus-the environment debates, it turns out we have an opportunity to create a win-win situation.”

The proposal was announced in conjunction with an oversight hearing on green jobs and economic stimulus in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Dec. 10. Nearly 100 individuals and organizations endorsed the program, including retired Forest Service officials, labor unions and conservationists.

1/1/09 in the Mountain Times

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