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A Historical View of Funding Federal Land Management: the US Forest Service. . Paul Hirt Associate Professor of History Senior Sustainability Scholar Arizona State University. The Problem.

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A historical view of funding federal land management the us forest service

A Historical View of Funding Federal Land Management:the US Forest Service.

Paul Hirt

Associate Professor of History

Senior Sustainability Scholar

Arizona State University


The problem

The Problem

  • The accomplishments of federal land managing agencies are largely determined by what that agency is empowered to do by policy and enabled to do by its budget.

  • An agency may have a mandate, yet lack the financial resources to fulfill it.


The problem1

The Problem

  • There is a historical and continuing disjunction between natural resource management planning and natural resource management funding that stymies balanced integrated management and goal-accomplishment.


Dimensions of the problem

Dimensions of the Problem

  • Resource management planning is largely a professional exercise; budgeting is political.

  • Resource planning is long-term; the appropriations process is annual.

  • Congress will often direct an agency to achieve certain objectives and authorize an adequate budget for a task, then unabashedly fail to provide the funds to accomplish the tasks.

  • This is Congress’s prerogative. It is standard practice.


Dimensions of the problem cont

Dimensions of the Problem (cont.)

  • Budget politics shift with every election and especially with changes in party majorities.

  • Specific budget line items become the main focus in appropriations debates rather than the whole.

  • Each interest group lobbies for its favorite budget items, and against their competitor’s interests.

  • “Crises” and popular initiatives get funding while other budget items languish or get cut.


Funding national forest management

Funding National Forest Management

  • Originally a lump-sum budget from Congress to administer national forests.

  • Gifford Pinchot sought to retain receipts to fund management, but Congress wanted more oversight and control.

  • Timber sale and grazing fee revenue returned to Treasury.

  • USFS not authorized to harvest timber on its own; must contract with private sector to accomplish management objectives.


Funding national forest management1

Funding National Forest Management

  • Early efforts to earmark funds for certain activities:

    • 25% Payments in Lieu of Taxes (1908)

    • 10% returned receipts road fund authorized 1913

    • Knutson-Vandenberg timber sale area betterment funds (10% authorized in 1930, unlimited retention of timber sale receipts permitted after NFMA in 1976)


A historical view of funding federal land management the us forest service

Publication date: 1996


Line item budgeting

Line Item Budgeting

  • Over 20th century Congress & OMB become more explicit about funding for distinct programs:

    • Timber sales administration

    • Road construction

    • Recreation

    • Grazing

    • Wildlife

    • Watershed and soil

    • Fire suppression

    • Research and cooperative forestry


A historical view of funding federal land management the us forest service

Hirt, A Conspiracy of Optimism, p. 212


Budgeting imbalance under eisenhower administration

Budgeting Imbalance Under Eisenhower Administration

Hirt, A Conspiracy of Optimism, p. 211.


A historical view of funding federal land management the us forest service

Hirt, A Conspiracy of Optimism, p. 237.


A historical view of funding federal land management the us forest service

Hirt, A Conspiracy of Optimism, p. 258.


A historical view of funding federal land management the us forest service

On budget politics during the 1970s-1980s, see: V. Alaric Sample, The Impact of the Federal Budget Process on National Forest Planning (Praeger, 1990).


Events in the late 60s and 70s

Events in the Late ‘60s and ‘70s

  • National Timber Supply Bill of 1969: to reduce lumber prices & stimulate home construction, would earmark all timber sale funds for intense silviculture to maximize production.

  • RPA & NFMA: attempt to address disjunction between planning and funding, arising out of battle between Nixon and Congress.

  • Expansion of K-V funds earmarked for “timber sale area betterment” in NFMA (originally authorized in 1930 Knutson-Vandenberg Act).


Forest fire funding a special case

Forest Fire Funding—A special case

  • Fire control/management has had its own historical trajectory and is treated differently than other forms of resource management funding.

Horseshoe II fire, Chiricahua Mountains, 2011)


A historical view of funding federal land management the us forest service

Gifford Pinchot, first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

Blank Check for Fire Suppression

In 1908 Congress passed a law allowing the Forest Service to overspend its budget during fire emergencies and send it a bill afterward.

(S. Pyne, America’s Fires, 26.)


A historical view of funding federal land management the us forest service

(S. Pyne, America’s Fires, 56.)


A historical view of funding federal land management the us forest service

(S. Pyne, America’s Fires, 47.)


A historical view of funding federal land management the us forest service

(S. Pyne, America’s Fires, 71.)


A historical view of funding federal land management the us forest service

Monument Fire, Huachuca Mountains, 2011


A historical view of funding federal land management the us forest service

Wallow Fire, White Mountains, 2011, largest fire in Arizona history.


A historical view of funding federal land management the us forest service

S. Pyne, America’s Fires, p. 48.


A historical view of funding federal land management the us forest service

Doug MacCleery, Reinventing the United States Forest Service, http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/ai412e/AI412E06.htm


Summary of funding mechanisms 1

Summary of Funding Mechanisms 1

  • Lump sum budget with agency discretion

    • perceived as undemocratic and insular

  • Line item budgets with careful OMB and congressional oversight

    • Chronic problem of imbalanced funding of integrated resource management

  • Earmarks and receipts retention (10% road fund, K-V funds)

  • Blank check for “emergencies” (fire)


Summary of funding mechanisms 2

Summary of Funding Mechanisms 2

  • Performance based funding

    • attempted during Eisenhower Administration: increase in timber sale and road budgets were tied to higher timber harvest quotas. What about resource goals lacking measurable outputs?

  • Market-based funding

    • Randall O’Toole, Reforming the Forest Service (1988): make all national forests run on direct receipts, end subsidies, marketize all forest uses.


Closing thoughts

Closing Thoughts…

  • These are “public lands”; not a for-profit business.

  • These are biological resources not a storehouse of commodities. Many ecosystem services cannot be effectively dollarized.

  • No silver bullet. No funding mechanism can solve all problems and none is without risks. “All of the above”?

  • Funding will always be politicized.

  • “Democracy is the worst possible form of government…except for all the rest.” (W. Churchill)


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