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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)
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
budgeting imbalance under eisenhower administration
Budgeting Imbalance Under Eisenhower Administration

Hirt, A Conspiracy of Optimism, p. 211.


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)


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.)


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)