Pioneer Editorial: Bush skimps on our piece of the woods
Those of us who choose to live in this part of northern Minnesota generally have great respect for our natural resources and a keen desire to promote a healthy environment. And, for the most part, we're willing to pay to see that our natural beau...
Those of us who choose to live in this part of northern Minnesota generally have great respect for our natural resources and a keen desire to promote a healthy environment. And, for the most part, we're willing to pay to see that our natural beauty remains usable but unscathed.
We would hope our government agencies maintain the same philosophy, and fund endeavors to do so adequately.
At one of the first hearings on President Bush's budget for the federal guardian of our national public lands -- the U.S. Forest Service -- members of Congress just shook their heads in dismay at the figures.
"I feel sorry for you, having to support this 'let's pretend' budget," Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee said earlier this week during a House Interior Appropriations subcommittee hearing to Gail Kimbell, the Forest Service's new chief on the job just a week. Added panel chairman Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., "a very unworkable budget."
The president's budget calls for $4.127 billion for fiscal 2008 for the Forest Service, down 1.6 percent from this year's $4.19 billion budget and nearly 4 percent from $4.21 billion for 2006. The new budget translates into the loss of 2,100 jobs.
The U.S. Forest Service is important to our area, as it staffs and maintains both the Chippewa National Forest here and the Superior National Forest along the northern border with Canada. We think they are important jobs, not only in providing recreational opportunities, but also in providing a sustainable timber harvest for local loggers. With the timber industry already suffering a deep blow from market forces and the price of timber itself, we find our local national forests lacking the ability to prepare and sell the amount of timber pledged under adopted forest plans.
A further workforce cut will even further depress the timber industry as the Forest Service struggles to supply the wood as pledged under the forest management plan. And, under the Bush budget, what is the administration's proposal? A plan to sell more than 200,000 acres of national forest land to help rural counties hurt by cutbacks in federal logging. Divvying up the public lands for development in return for a one-time financial windfall is shortsighted and not something we want in Minnesota.
And, as we've seen several times in recent years on the Superior National Forest, wildfire can be devastating and staff is needed to undertake preventive measures. The Bush budget does do one thing -- boosts funding for fighting forests some 23 percent to $911 million. But it seems to come at the expense of other important Forest Service programs, as fire-fighting resources would take up nearly a quarter of the Forest Service's total budget.
At the same time, it cuts funding for fire preparedness, such as Minnesota's Firewise program which receives federal funding to help homeowners cut overcrowded wood-lots to reduce the risk of fire to their home in the woods. Under the new budget, that federal aid to the state virtually disappears.
We realize that some sacrifices must be made in the federal budget, but we can't afford to skimp on our piece of the woods.