Two articles of interest this morning.. reductions in firefighter hires due to sequestration.. as in the LA Times story here…
Here is an excerpt:
The U.S. Forest Service will hire 500 fewer firefighters this year, the result of “line by line” budget reductions required by Congress, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a conference call with reporters. The reduced staffing also means 50 fewer fire engines will be available, Vilsack said.
Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewel said much of the West would face severe fire danger this summer.
“We will no doubt be seeing some fires of significant size,” Vilsack said.
The Interior Department is also expected to cut its firefighting forces.
The Forest Service hires firefighters in spring and retains them through fall, Tom Harbour, the Forest Service’s national director of fire and aviation management, said in an interview Monday. Last year, when 9.3 million acres burned in the United States, the Forest Service hired 10,500 firefighters. The Interior Department fielded another 2,500.
California is expected to be the most imperiled of the dry Western states. The state this year has received only 25% of the rainfall that it received in the same period for 2012, National Interagency Fire Center fire analyst Jeremy Sullens said. Other states expected to be hit hard are Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Idaho, along with portions of other states.
Because of the danger California is in, the Forest Service does not plan to reduce hiring there, Harbour said. The reductions will more likely affect Eastern states, where the danger is less serious this year.
I also saw this here:
The U.S. Forest Service is awarding $772,820 to help national forests improve or implement conservation education programs for kids in 16 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This award is part of the more than $2.26 million dedicated to connecting American kids to Nature. It includes more than $1.49 million in partner contributions, according to a spokesperson for the Forest Service.
“Forest Service conservation education programs inspire young people to start exploring the natural world around them, which develops a life-long appreciation for the environment,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Our partnerships help ensure that we bring the great outdoors to children, whether in an urban or rural setting.”
Remember, the same Forest Service had to ask for money back from States (asked for money back) but is also giving out new grants…
It seems to me that if Congress would let USDA/FS switch among line items.. then we could apply my bureacratic prioritization process, or some other rational process that could be explained to the public.
1. Real danger to people, fish, soil, air, tourism, water storage, and properties. Fires yes, lack of conservation education, not.
2. Critical as to timing- fires this year, either there is real danger of bad fires this year or it’s fire hype.. someone in government should be able to tell the difference. Not so timing-critical is conservation education.
3. Across the government, how many uncoordinated efforts are there? Just in my everyday dealings before I retired, I ran across the National Park Service, NSF and EPA having some form of conservation education. Maybe Congress could ask for volunteers (retirees) from all these agencies (and the others no doubt) to review the different programs (I’m sure other agencies do it as well) and make recommendations for combinations and coordination. They might even be “educating” at cross purposes.
Just to be clear, I have nothing against conservation education, it is a great and important program. I do have something against apparent inability to prioritize and coordinate among federal agencies. And if it would take some freeing action by Congress to allow agencies to do it, then let’s ask Congress to do it.
What are your thoughts? How would you prioritize?
Thanks to an alert reader for this submission:
Hope there is a panel of (volunteer) externals to review these for each agency..otherwise we’ll we might have suggestions like “answering the phone even less often when federal retirees call OMB..”
I think the FS might have done something like this during the Pilot period. It was very incentivizing! Hopefully retirees can also input suggestions and maybe get a half of one percent? How about contractors and the public?
P.S. I don’t know anyone who believes that end-of-year spending flurries are the optimum use of federal resources.
WASHINGTON — By MICHAEL COLLINS
Federal employees could soon have a big incentive to help the government save money: They could take home a share of the savings.
A bill filed Thursday by U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., would give bonuses to federal workers who come up with ways for the government to save money. The employees could receive 1 percent of the total cost savings, or up to $10,000.
Fleischmann said offering the bonuses would not only be a way to encourage workers to cut wasteful spending, it also could return to the U.S. Treasury millions of unused tax dollars that could then be applied toward deficit reduction.
“This is a bill that I think will appeal to all fiscally responsible members of Congress — Republicans and Democrats — because it’s just a good, common sense bill,” Fleischmann said.
Federal agencies are appropriated a certain amount of funds every year. “Right now, sadly, what happens is when a government agency is allotted funds, sometimes those funds are not really needed,” Fleischmann said.
Regardless, critics say, agencies rush to spend unused dollars in the last quarter of the fiscal year, encouraging a “use-it-or-lose-it” mentality.
Fleischmann’s bill, known as the EASY Savings Act, seeks to end that practice by encouraging government workers to look for and suggest ways to stop frivolous spending. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has filed the Senate version of the bill.
The legislation has bipartisan support and has been endorsed by the American Taxpayers Union and other government watchdog groups.
“In order to bring spending reform to Washington, we need to make fundamental changes such as improving the incentive structure,” said James Valvo, director of policy for Americans For Prosperity. “The EASY Savings Act would provide better incentives for federal agencies and grant recipients to return unused funds for deficit reduction.”
Why the Forest Service? Of all the agencies who gave all the bucks to all the other entities already, why would you pick the Forest Service bucks and States to try to get money back from? Really?
I’ve been known to be “politically impaired,” so if someone with better sensitivities would explain why it is considered a good idea to poke both red and blue governors and states with a sharp stick, please enlighten us.
Here’s an AP story..
So far I’ve seen stories where Alaska and Wyoming are not giving it back..
There was somethin’ funny about this but I didn’t quite get it until I read this analogy here…
Suppose your employer announced a 5-percent reduction in income and, because of that, a 5-percent reduction in pay for all employees.
Would you expect him to demand that you return 5 percent of the pay you’ve already received for the year?
Ohio Gov. John Kasich has yet to decide his response to the Forest Service demand for retroactive cuts.
But that’s the scenario facing the state of Ohio.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, the Budget Control Act of 2011, also known as the sequester, cut the budgets of three programs: the Secure Rural Schools program, the 25 Percent Fund and the Grasslands program.
But a bunch of these states voted for this Administration.. if this is how you treat your friends..??
A great opportunity to tick off governors…
Ohio wasn’t the only state told to return funds. Forty other state governors received similar letters. New Mexico Watchdog discovered that state’s amount was nearly $600,000.
The National Governors Association sent a letter to Tidwell challenging the legality of the demand.
“Other than general references to the March 1, 2013, sequestration…,” the letter stated, “… the March 19 letters provide no specific legal citation to support this demand to return obligated funds.”
Despite the “Forest Service” title on this, I wonder where the decision was really made. Forest Service folks don’t have the culture for generally ticking partners off for the heck of it…
I picked this up from a Colorado Springs news clip..
Here is the link to the story, below is an excerpt.
Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, questioned U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell Tuesday about how the agency plans to grapple with budget cuts that could impact its ability to fight fire this season.
The forest service expects to add next generation, or modernized air tankers, to its fleet this month, but will still have to deal with cuts to its fire suppression programs. In short, although it has yet to get seriously underway, wildfire season 2013 could be an expensive endeavor for the agency.
As of last week, the 2014 budget was a done deal–and the forest service announced that it will be cutting funds to its fire suppression program by 37 percent. For the committee of senators from Oregon, Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado and Minnesota, that will come as big blow, particularly as the country gears up for another potentially record-breaking wildfire season.
Both fire suppression and preparedness funds were cut, Tidwell told the committee. There are about 87 million acres of forest lands that need fuel treatment–the cutting down of trees, and thinning of forests to make them less of a breeding ground for megafires–but the forest service’s hazardous fuel reduction budget will be focused entirely on red zones, where people live.
That doesn’t mean that other forest lands won’t get the treatment they need, Tidwell said; instead, those projects will be funded by other projects besides hazardous fuels reduction.
The sequester will also impact the agencies wildfire fighting resources–it has cut 500 firefighters and between 50 and 70 engines from its pool, Tidwell said.
“We’ll start off the season with less resources,” Tidwell told the committee. “Because of the sequester it will probably just cost us more money when it comes to fire.”
Watch the two-hour committee hearing and read Tidwell’s witness statement by clicking here.
My other question would be that if the President said that climate change is a priority as in story here, and fires are worse, in some part, due to climate change, then wouldn’t it be logical to increase what you spend on fire?
But as Bob Berwyn points out here. at the same time, the Park Service is getting an increase in the 2014 budget. According to Bob, these increases include:
Key increases include $5.2 million to control exotic and invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels, $2.0 million to enhance sustainable and accessible infrastructure across the national park system, and $1.0 million to foster the engagement of youth in the great outdoors. These increases are partially offset by programmatic decreases to park operations and related programs totaling $20.6 million.
If we are working on climate change, and the budget is the “policy made real” then WTH??? Is climate change only about helping energy industries go low carbon, or is it also about mitigating impacts? We could easily spend more bucks studying potential future impacts than dealing with today’s impacts. Seems to me you gotta pick a lane.. either fires are worse due (partially) to CC or they are not. If they are, they should be part of the Climate Change budget and actions.
Not surprisingly, FS budgets are down, and there are impacts, including to recreation.
Here’s one from the White River. On a scale of 1 to 10, this is probably an 8 in terms of information..
This is from the Aspen Times here. I think it would be interesting to have this much information on each forest.
As funding stands now, the White River will lose “somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million” in funding compared with last year, Fitzwilliams said. The funding for 19 national forests is decided by the Rocky Mountain Region headquarters in Lakewood.
Some decisions still are being made in the regional office that could affect the White River’s final budget for 2013, Fitzwilliams said. For example, some of the funds budgeted for the forests in the region weren’t spent in 2012, so there is a chance some of that will carry over to the 2013 budget. In addition, national forests across the country took funds out of programs to contribute to fire-fighting efforts last summer. Some of those funds also may be replaced.
The White River National Forest’s budget varies drastically from year to year. It had a $28.57 million total budget in 2010 with a huge caveat. About $10.6 million of that, 37 percent, was allocated specifically for projects to deal with bark-beetle destruction. Last year’s budget was about $22 million, Fitzwilliams said.
this is not counting sequestration, and
The major portion of the funds raised at the Maroon Bells will remain intact. The funds there are collected and spent under a program separate from the general operating budget.
“That’s fee money and that’s pretty sacred,” Fitzwilliams said.
Congress passed legislation that allows the Forest Service to charge a fee at areas that meet certain criteria. Those funds must be spent in the area where they are collected.
The Forest Service has collected between $100,000 and $200,000 each summer from visitors to the Maroon Bells Recreation Area since the fee was started in 2000. The agency charges $10 per vehicle and 50 cents on each bus ticket. Travel for personal vehicles is limited, so the buses take tens of thousands of visitors to the popular Maroon Lake. Fitzwilliams called the fee a “lifesaver” in a 2011 interview.
This story is at the other end of the budget in terms of what campgrounds are closed and the impacts to the environment (people aren’t going to stop “using the facilities” just because there are no facilities..and to other recreation-providing entities.
Here’s the link and below is an excerpt:
Pecos business operators are livid that the U.S. Forest Service has closed a campground, locked day-use toilets and taken away trash cans from popular recreation sites in the Pecos Canyon.
A Santa Fe National Forest spokesman says the problem is lack of funds to maintain the recreation sites.
The impact on the Pecos sites may be only the beginning. According to an initial fiscal year 2013 budget memo for the Santa Fe National Forest, recreational funding is trending down. The agency’s recreational budget was cut by about 8 percent — $166,000 — from the 2012 budget. “Without adequate funding to support program areas, the forest must set priorities as to which sites will open, and conversely which will remain closed,” the memo states.
Pecos residents say the agency shouldn’t make the Pecos Canyon low priority on the recreation funding list.
The Pecos Business Association and the Upper Pecos Watershed Association sent a letter Monday to New Mexico’s Congressional and state lawmakers and Gov. Susana Martinez about the closed recreation sites. The letter says their members met in mid-March with Pecos/Las Vegas District Ranger Steve Romero, who told them funds in the recreation budget were “insufficient to maintain services at existing recreation areas and that ‘potential’ closure of eight day-use areas, four campgrounds and one trailhead is planned for the new fiscal year.”
But the toilets already are locked and trash cans are gone from free day-use areas at Upper and Lower Dalton, Windy Bridge, Cowles Ponds and the Winsor trailhead, according to Huie Ley, owner of the Tererro General Store in the canyon. The Cowles and Links Tract campgrounds also are closed.
Finally, our friends in Southern California think “if there’s no budget, give it to the Park Service!” as we’ve discussed before..
Hmm.. if it works for the Angeles, why not the San Bernardino? Here..
NATIONAL FORESTS: Park Service offers a hand in the Angeles
Federal officials are proposing that the National Park Service help the U.S. Forest Service manage the very busy Angeles National Forest, which encompasses most of the San Gabriel Mountains stretching from the Cajon Pass to Los Angeles.
“Under the proposal, the region essentially would remain national forest land managed by the cash-strapped Forest Service. But it would draw upon the National Park Service for additional law enforcement, signage, trail maintenance and services such as trash pickup,” according to a story in the Los Angeles Times by Louis Sahagun.
Interestingly, Sahagun’s story said that more than 95 percent of public comments on the plan supported the idea of creating a National Recreation Area spanning the entire area, including the national forest land.
The San Bernardino National Forest suffers many of the same pressures as the Angeles, from vandalism and other crime to air pollution to illegal shooting and off-roading. Would the National Park Service be able to solve those problems? It will be interesting to watch what happens in our neighboring forest
Well potentially the FS and Park Service could work together to share resources in this tough budget climate but some think.. story here.
The only way the two federal agencies can work together in the Angeles is through an obscure program called Service First Authority. The NPS said this is one way to move some NPS park rangers into the heavily used Angeles Forest areas such as the East and West Fork of the San Gabriel River.
But Chu criticized this management proposal. “That is an unknown,” she said. “I don’t know if that has ever been used on a project of this scale. Visitors need – and deserve – additional resources in the San Gabriel Mountains and Watershed, and I intend to do my part to ensure that happens. “
She will be hosting townhall meetings to allow the public to ask questions of the NPS, as well as roundtables with stakeholder groups, she said. No dates have been set for the additional meetings.
It doesn’t seem like an “obscure authority” to me, having seen it work with BLM extremely well in southern Colorado. I wonder if that is the journalist’s opinion, or the representative’s opinion. I don’t blame any representatives for doing their best to bring bucks to their forest, but discounting Service First out of hand does not seem fair either.
It makes sense for agencies to work together.. I am especially reminded since yesterday was tax day. If I were the new Interior Secretary, I would reinvigorate Service First in a serious way with the Forest Service, because giving pieces to the Park Service so they get more bucks depending on political clout doesn’t seem like good public administration.
Of course, if I were the Secretary I would ask them to stop doing studies and figure something out that minimized the need for political intervention and take the study money and give it to Mesa Verde for some decent fencing.
This is a good news article from the Denver Post about people working together to decide on what should be cut. Kudos to the Park Superintendent.
Here’s an excerpt:
Dan Wenk, the superintendent of Yellowstone, is the face of the federal government around Cody, and his popularity underscores the truth that it’s harder to dislike a neighbor than some faceless bureaucrat inside the Beltway. When the cuts hit, Wenk had to slice $1.75 million from his $35 million budget and do it with the fiscal year just about half over.
He trimmed his payroll. He scaled back travel and training programs. Finally, he decided to idle the Park Service snowplows for two weeks, saving $30,000 a day and leaving it to the spring thaw to help clear more than 300 miles of roadway.
The idea, Wenk said, was to ensure that there was money left to keep Yellowstone open throughout the peak summer months.
“We cut the budget in a way we thought was absolutely the least impactful,” he said.
Locals were nearly unanimous in their praise for Wenk and the way he worked with community leaders and state officials to find a solution that got the plows rolling. It is a lesson, they said, that Washington should heed.
“We just talked it through,” said Claudia Wade, marketing director for the county tourism office. “Everybody came to the table and said, ‘How can we work this out?’ Not, ‘Whose fault is it?’ “
In case it isn’t obvious, the communities around Yellowstone and the Administration are generally not of the same political stripe. Local physical realities tend to trump ideological inclinations.
Here’s a link to this article (from the Fremont County Ranger, below is an excerpt.
Local U.S. Forest Service officials say they won’t be negatively effected by federal budget sequestration, but only because of additional funding that came from Congress last year.
“That money … basically insulated us from the impact of the 5 percent (sequester) cut,” district ranger Steve Schacht said Thursday.
“So in this fiscal year we’re not going to see an impact … except in fuels potentially.”
Schacht said the Forest Service may hire fewer seasonal employees this season, leaving regular staff to bear more fire prevention responsibilities that include monitoring flammable fuels.
The U.S. Department of Agri-culture estimated the Forest Service will complete as many as 200,000 fewer acres of hazardous fuel treatments.
“If the trend continues we’re going to see fewer standing firefighters on each unit,” Schacht said.
“But we’re not seeing that im-pact this year. And they may make adjustments at different levels in the agency in order to offset that.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $134 million will be cut from the U.S. Forest Service for wildland fire management due to sequestration.
The reduction in funds reportedly would result in an appropriated funding level that is $42 million below the calculated 10 year average for fire suppression costs for fiscal year 2013.
The National Forest Service will see a $78 million cut according to the USDA, leading to a reduction in activities like forest and watershed restoration, grazing and mining. Jobs reportedly will be lost, and campgrounds and other recreational offerings may be shut down.
Thanks to Rob Chaney for delving into this mystery..
Here is the link and below is an excerpt.
On the forest management side, Vilsack’s letter predicted the closure of up to 670 campgrounds and other recreation sites and the “reduction” of 35 Forest Service law enforcement officers. It didn’t explain if those reductions meant people would be fired, furloughed or not hired.
Timber harvests would be cut about 15 percent in 2013, from 2.8 billion board feet to 2.379 billion. The agency also would “restore 390 fewer stream miles, 2,700 acres of lake habitat and improve 260,000 fewer acres of wildlife habitat.”
That sounds like the kind of work performed by Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Projects such as Montana’s Southwest Crown Collaborative. But Pyramid Mountain Lumber resource manager Gordy Sanders said he’d not heard of any change in the many CFLRP projects the Seeley Lake mill was involved in.
“We look forward to the Forest Service performing in developing projects, doing the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) work and doing the project just like always,” Sanders said. “We fully expect them to produce. They’re incredibly important piece of the overall supply for all these family-owned mills.”
Vilsack’s letter gave no indication of what this might do to Forest Service or other Agriculture Department workers.
By comparison, WildfireToday.com blogger Bill Gabbert posted a copy of a Feb. 22 letter from Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to Department of Interior employees stating “thousands of permanent employees will be furloughed … for periods of time up to 22 work days.”
The letter also stated “Many of our seasonal employees will be furloughed, have delayed starts, or face shortened employment periods. In some cases, we will not have the financial resources to hire seasonal employees at all.”
Salazar’s letter also warned of deep cuts to the department’s youth hiring this year. Montana Conservation Corps Director Jono McKinny said he was still waiting for details at a crucial time of the year.
“We have hired our crew leaders for the year, and we’re training them now,” McKinny said. “We will have 250 young people serving in AmeriCorps this summer, and another 240 serving in our summer youth programs. This is when we start negotiating projects, in March and April. If those projects aren’t there, we’re going to need to scale back dramatically. Those projects are two-thirds of our budget.”
Sharon’s take: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there are two sets of highly paid folks (Interior and Agriculture) sitting in a cascading set of meetings, planning on dealing with sequestration on closely related work (e.g., fire crews) in potentially uncoordinated ways. One is more open, the other less so. It just doesn’t make any sense.
To (sort of) understand the sequestration and its effects on the Forest Service, here’s a crash course in the Forest Service’s budget.
FS spending is divided into the following budget accounts (FY2013):
National Forest System ($1.63 billion): This money is used primarily to pay salaries & benefits for the 40,000 folks who do day-to-day national forest management.
Fire ($2.5 billion): About half is spent on having an infrastructure reading to fight fires and the other half on actually fighting the fires, with very large fires accounting for most of these costs. These proportions can vary greatly from one year to another.
Research ($0.3 billion): Studying how things tick.
Capital Improvement ($0.45 billion): Fixing built stuff.
State and Private Forestry ($0.26 billion): Cutting & burning worthless wood.
Permanent Appropriations ($0.65 billion): Payments to states (e.g., Secure Rural Schools) is the big ticket. Also where most of your recreation fee dollars are spent. A potpourri of other spending tidbits is lumped in here, too, e.g., salvage sale money laundering.
Land Acquisition ($0.08 billion): House R’s don’t want to buy any more federal land, so we don’t anymore.
Trust Funds ($0.08 billion): Green groups don’t want to cut any trees, so we don’t anymore, which has pretty much zeroed out K-V and other trust funds.
Take these numbers and subtract 5% and that gives you the FY2013 spending amount if the sequestration dollars stay sequestered to the end of the fiscal year. On a month-to-month basis, however, actual spending will reflect a 10% cut because federal agencies have been spending at the regular, un-sequestered rate since the beginning of the fiscal year (10/1/12). We’re halfway through the fiscal year, so agencies have to double their cuts to stay within the caps.
How the FS distributes the cuts WITHIN these budget accounts is anyone’s guess.