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Obama budget boosts U.S. Forest Service

President Barack Obama's 2010 budget would boost U.S. Forest Service funding by 8.9 percent.

While setting national priorities that "acts to save and create new jobs, and lay a new foundation for growth," it also anticipates a slight decrease in timber harvested from national forests.

Obama's budget proposal boosts USFS funding to $5.23 billion, and eliminates $71.3 million in congressional earmarks from the request. It also projects timber harvest at 1,984,000 million board feet, down from 2,049,000 mmbf actually harvested in 2008 but up from 1.9 million mmbf enacted for 2009.

"What I want to do personally is to make sure that the budget that comes to the Chippewa (National) Forest is at least as much as we've had in the past" for timber harvest preparations, Kent Connaughton, USFS regional forester from Milwaukee, Wis., said earlier this week in an interview.

Rob Harper, Chippewa National Forest supervisor, "has said that costs of providing forest management activities in the future can decline from where they are," Connaughton, in Bemidji to meet with Harper and staff, said. "In other words, if I gave him a dollar, he can get more out of that dollar. If he can do that, there is an economy of scale that I believe he's entitled to try t realize."

And, "if I can give him a dollar, what would he do with $2?," he said.

The Chippewa National Forest in 2008 saw the harvest of 19,575 mmbf, and reforested 1,641 acres. There are 666,618 national forest acres within the 1.6 million boundary national forest.

"I want to keep things at least where they are," Connaughton said.

Harvests are important, especially where there are industries to do it, he said.

"Harvesting timber for industrial raw material purposes is a necessity from the point of view of the industry -- and I need the industry as bad as they need me," Connaughton said. "The industry obviously needs the raw material and provides an economic base for so many different communities and jobs. That's probably well understood by folks."

But what isn't always understood, he said, "is that the industry does work that is necessary for us to sustain and perpetuate these forests. These forests if left on their own would probably not produce the combination of environmental conditions and benefits that folks have grown accustomed to."

Proper and skilled forest management by the industry is part of USFS's ability to properly manage national forests, he said. "And we've found that in a couple places in the United States where we've lost the industry is our ability to work inside the forest; the costs have become enormously burdensome."

For example, fuel treatments in southern California have cost around $4,000 an acre, he said. "Beautiful, beautiful large trees have to be destroyed and put in landfills because of their mortality. If we had an industry in place, that could have been utilized, the material could have been removed from the site and reforestation would have been faster and the costs would have been a fraction of the thousands of dollars in expense."

Having the industry disappear is not a favorable public policy, Connaughton said.

In maintaining a harvest level, "my expectation of Rob is that he choose that harvest level in a way that will maintain the health of the forest," he said. "Regardless of what it is that occurs here, we aren't harvesting trees willy-nilly because they are there to be cut. It is there because we have a strategy for managing this forest.

"And whether or not if the restoration of white pine is a consequence of the intrusion of the aspen and the growth of the aspen component, which is out of whack with our history of these forests, the industry would become a part of that solution," he said.

The Obama budget would focus on responsible budgeting for wildfires, protecting the national forests and conserving new lands, as well as consideration for climate change.

The federal economic stimulus package also provides $1.15 billion to USFS for hazardous fuels reduction, forest health protection, rehabilitation and hazardous mitigation activities on federal, state and private lands. Some 20,000 new private sector jobs could be created through shovel-ready projects in urban forestry, restoration, fire prevention, roads, bridges, buildings and recreation facilities, states the budget narrative.

About $650 million of the $1.15 billion is set aside for infrastructure improvements.

"We haven't gotten word yet on which projects would be funded," Harper said of proposed economic stimulus projects on the Chippewa. "The majority are in capital investment -- replacement of bridges, roads, some in partnership with the counties."

Harper said the Chippewa "submitted substantial dollar amounts" in project requests.

"There's more to come on the $1.15 billion -- we've only had a fraction of that which has been released to us," Connaughton said. "It will do some pretty good things -- environmentally, socially, economically, for the community."

Obama's goals for USFS funding "makes sense to me, because they are compatible," he said. "It will be up to individuals like us to work them together as independent priorities."

National forests can be conserved, he said. "To me, the mechanism to accomplish that is the kinds of forest management, progressive forest management, that typifies the Chippewa right now in their forest plan."