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House Rejects Bid to Cut Back Forest Research

Environment: Vote largely ignores the Bush administration's request to shift funding to other areas, such as inventorying.

July 19, 2002|BETTINA BOXALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The U.S. House of Representatives approved budget language late Wednesday rejecting a Bush administration proposal that would have taken a big bite out of U.S. Forest Service research in California.

The House appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior and related agencies kept Forest Service research on its current track, largely ignoring administration requests to redirect funding to several other areas.

A Forest Service analysis last winter concluded that in California the budget proposal would have forced the elimination of dozens of research positions, the closing of two laboratories and reductions in a number of research programs involving aquatic and other wildlife species.

The administration wanted to spend about $38 million to greatly expand forest inventory efforts, which some critics saw as a bow to commercial logging interests. It also wanted to develop computer modeling software for different forest management approaches and to increase research into the use of wood fiber for energy production.

"I had to recommend some hard choices," U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey said of the proposal, adding that he had consistently been told that the Forest Service should step up its inventory programs. "Our data is not current. We are not following forest trends."

The House did increase funding for inventory work--basically a forest census--but not by nearly the amount the administration wanted. It gave Forest Service research programs $252 million--$9 million more than the administration had requested and $10.6 million more than the previous year's funding.

The House Appropriations Committee report also denounced the administration recommendations. "The committee rejects the proposed budget and allocations, as they are poorly conceived and were not coordinated at all with key constituencies," the committee's report stated.

The proposal ran into opposition from conservation groups and professional foresters, who worried that it would eliminate critical research. Both conservative and liberal members of Congress complained that it would kill valuable programs in their districts.

Rey said that the administration had not recommended any specific cuts in personnel or programs and did not know precisely how the funding shift would have played out in California.

In terms of the entire Interior appropriations bill, he said, "The administration's overall spending objectives were met. So everyone left the field smiling."

The Senate is expected to take up the budget bill next week, when the administration's research recommendation are expected to meet the same fate.

"I think there was a pretty strong, convincing case that the Bush administration's interest in switching more to research that would support commodity production just flew in the face of the needs of the Forest Service," said Michael Francis, director of the national forests program for the Wilderness Society.

His organization was not so happy about some other elements of the Interior bill, saying it cut $52 million from a federal land acquisition fund and relaxed environmental reviews of grazing on national forest land.

Also defeated was a floor amendment that would have restricted crops grown on leased land in federal wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin. Grains would have been favored over crops that use more water and pesticides.

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