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The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on April 16 to discuss the U.S. Forest Service’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request. The senators also used the opportunity to discuss a number of issues of concern, including prevention of future forest fires.

“Hazardous fuel is a huge blow to forest health,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the committee said during his opening statement. “Sequestration is taking a huge toll.”

The hearing’s sole witness, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said “This request will allow us to continue our 98 percent fire suppression strategy, and meet our 10-year suppression average.” Tidwell also mentioned that the administration’s budget request includes $50 million to modernize the air tanker fleet, and $100 million in overall cost cuts.

The senators had some of the same concerns House of Representatives members had at their Forest Service budget hearing a week ago, namely how can the forest service ask for a 72 percent increase in its land acquisition budget, but claim it is difficult to manage the lands it already has under sequestration. “How does this all balance out?” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) asked.

“It reflects what we are hearing from the public,” Tidwell responded. “… It reduces our boundary requirements and therefore our administrative costs and allows people more access to existing lands to recreate… We’re acquiring land from willing sellers.”

“We’ve lost the focus of the forest service,” Sen. Udall said in his final statement, echoing the comments of Sen. Murkowski and others. “This budget looks more appropriate for the National Park service… catering more toward tourism and recreation. Perhaps the agency needs to be removed from the Department of Agriculture and be a part of the Department of Interior.

Posted in: Washington News
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