April 10, 2008

Public land agencies could join services

Study measures proposal to move U.S. Forest Service under management with BLM and National Park Service

By Steve Grazier Staff Writer
Cortez Journal

A study was launched by the Government Accountability Office in Washington D.C. last month to determine whether moving the U.S. Forest Service under the umbrella of the Department of the Interior is feasible.

“While I have not had the opportunity to fully consider the implications, when I look at the unequal treatment of the Forest Service compared to the Department of the Interior when it comes to budget, it makes me wonder whether such a move might be worth some serious thought,” Allard said in a prepared statement.

Allard is the ranking Republican leader of the Senate Interior Appropriations Committee.

Stephanie Valencia, a D.C.-based spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colorado, noted that the GAO study is something the senator has his eye on.

“He’s looking at the issue now,” Valencia said. “Regardless of what agency is running the Forest Service, the senator wants to make sure it’s funded correctly. He’ll continue to work to make sure that happens.”

Salazar is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Bureaucratic brethren of the Forest Service include the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which manage 84 million acres, 96 million acres and 258 million acres of public lands. The latter three are within the Interior Department.

The four agencies have overlapping missions that include fire prevention and suppression, natural resource conservation, fostering recreational uses, and regulating commercial activities such as logging, drilling, mining and livestock grazing.

According to a written statement from Allard’s Washington D.C. office, the House Appropriations Committee requested in March that the GAO look into the issue. Proponents of the move suggest that under the Agriculture Department, the Forest Service does not gain the attention it needs and that it could be better managed by Interior because the BLM, Park Service and the Forest Service are similar agencies.

Neither the Forest Service nor Interior Department have officially requested the GAO study.

The Forest Service was originally placed under the Agriculture Department in 1905 because it was treated as a resource for harvesting timber. Now that timber harvesting is declining, many people believe it would fit better in Interior.

“In Colorado, we are faced with a situation where a lack of harvesting has led to poor forest health, and this plays out throughout the West,” Allard said. “If anything, we need to promote an increase in responsible and sustainable timber harvesting.”

During the Reagan Administration in the 1980s, a proposal to combine the BLM and Forest Service was discussed, according to Steve Wymer, a spokesman for Allard.

“There does seem to be some previously established evidence to suggest that this (move) could be wise,” he said.