"Healthy Forests" money for LA area National Forests

Larry Harrell lhfotoware at hotmail.com
Sun May 9 10:48:59 EST 2004


May 6, 2004    Sacramento Bee

Ag official tells panel he'll try to speed fire aid to California
 

By David Whitney -- Bee Washington Bureau
 

Published 2:15 am PDT Thursday, May 6, 2004
 

WASHINGTON - Facing mounting criticism for holding back money that
could be used to prevent forest fires, the Bush administration's top
forestry official announced Wednesday that he is looking for ways to
relax rules to speed the money flow to Southern California.
The announcement came at a hearing of a House Government Reform
Committee panel headed by Rep. Doug Ose, R-Sacramento. The hearing was
on whether the administration was doing enough to prevent wildfires in
the West.

Mark E. Rey, undersecretary for natural resources and environment at
the U.S. Department of Agriculture, acknowledged that the speed with
which $170 million, in two pots, has been dispersed to Southern
California counties has been slowed because of requirements for local
matching funds they can't provide.
Rey said he told Ose that he has asked the agency to review its
authority to lower, and maybe even waive, the requirements so that
more money can be sent quickly into Southern California to rid forests
of insect-killed pine trees that are fueling fires threatening urban
areas.

The announcement brought cheers from California's two Democratic
senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, who were informed
separately of the decision.

"This will help get $120 million, which has already been appropriated,
to work to remove hazardous fuels on private lands in San Bernardino,
San Diego, and Riverside counties more quickly," Feinstein said. "I
also understand the department is seeking ways to reduce bottlenecks
to further expedite the release of funds."

Despite the funding flap, however, Ose was generally supportive of the
way the Bush administration was handling forest-fire prevention under
the new "healthy forests" law approved by Congress last year, with his
vote.

The new law requires that 60 percent of the federal effort to rid the
nation's 190 million acres of forestlands of a buildup of brush and
small trees be spent around communities where lives and property are
at risk.

And while critics charged that not enough money is going into the
effort and that funds are being shifted between accounts, both Rey and
Interior Department Assistant Secretary P. Lynn Scarlett said money to
clean up the forest is growing year by year in President Bush's
budget.

"There are some who thought passage of legislation would end all
forest fires," Rey said. "But it is not a problem that can be solved
overnight. It can be solved in 10 or 12 years' time, but it will take
that long."

If anything, Ose suggested that the Forest Service is not doing enough
logging. He pointed to statistics showing that the nation's forests
are growing by 21 billion board-feet a year but that only 5 billion
board-feet are being removed by logging and mortality.

"Is there a great need to harvest more dead or dying trees?" he asked.

But Steve Holmer, a spokesman for the National Forest Defense
Campaign, said Ose's statistics are misleading, given the overcutting
of the largest and best trees during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

"If you look at the condition of the forests, they are still in a
deficit situation because of the high grading in the past," he said.
"There are more trees, but they are smaller."

Comment by poster: Yes, those Forests do need the funds but, it
shouldn't be at the expense of other Forests that also have fuels
buildups and overcrowding of trees. More remote Forests are having
their funding stripped and diverted to places like the LA area
Forests. Employees on those more remote Forests are becoming
"unfunded" and are being told to look for "details" on other Forests
which have more funding and projects. I'm sure that I will be
travelling back down to the San Bernardino NF to implement projects
for fuels reduction this summer.

I also wonder when project funds will be hijacked by the fire
suppression folks. Many Forests have discovered how to "obligate"
funds and making them off-limits to the fire folks.

Larry,    Healthy Forestry Technician



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