WASHINGTON D.C. April 9th 2019. The Senate Committee for Energy and Natural Resources met today to go over the 2020 fiscal budget recently requested by the President. It includes greater financial support and flexibility for fire suppression, and a reauthorization of earlier legislation passed by the President last year to help deal with the backlog of maintenance costs in public lands across America.
“The fiscal year 2020 President’s Budget for the USDA Forest Service totals nearly $5.7 billion. Of that, $559 million is mandatory funding. It is a good investment for the American people and will enable us to make progress in addressing the critical condition of America’s forests,” said Victoria Christiansen, Chief of the USDA Forest Service in opening remarks.”
One of the primary concerns of the Forest Service in terms of budgetary needs concerned wildfire fighting and prevention. Last year, 2.6 billion dollars were spent on fire fighting – a result of 8.8 million acres of National Forests being scorched. The agency pulled much of that money from non-fire related sources to cover the costs.
“The USDA Forest Service is requesting access to $1.95 billion of the overall resources authorized in the recently enacted “wildfire cap adjustment.” This, in addition to the Suppression funding requested in the President’s budget, should dramatically reduce the need for transferring funds from our other mission programs to cover firefighting costs,” she said.
All together, funding for firefighting activities has risen to 3.3 billion dollars under President Trump’s 2020 budget. The budget also reauthorizes a number of key pieces of legislation to help clear off the list of deferred maintenance projects on America’s public lands and in her parks.
One in particular is the Public Lands Infrastructure Fund. The Forest Service has access to 10% of the fund’s total assets. The fund was established with “50 percent of all federal energy development revenue that would otherwise be credited or deposited as miscellaneous receipts to the Treasury over the 2020-2024 period,“ said Victoria Christiansen. This amounts to roughly 18 billion dollars, ten percent of which is available to the Forest Service.
Through all this however, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairman of the committee, ranking republican, and representative of Alasksa, believes more support is needed.
“I am still hopeful we can work together on a bipartisan basis, hopefully a bicameral basis, with the Administration, on a package of meaningful management reforms in this Congress to further address this issue.” she said in opening statements.
The discussions will continue, until April 10th.