Forest needs to be funded | AspenTimes.com

Forest needs to be funded

Monday’s story on the White River National Forest’s funding shortfall for this year was informative and brought to light an important issue facing our public lands.

Congress is not providing an adequate level of funding for the Forest Service to manage our national forests. The White River National Forest is the fifth most heavily recreated forest in the country, yet the budget for the forest is down 3.5 percent from last year.

The article suggests that one societal factor heavily influencing the Forest Service’s budget is litigation from interest groups over major decisions on the forest such as logging. Litigation, the article explains, tends to generate extensive analysis of the environmental impacts of proposed projects under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).

However, it is Congress that has passed the laws requiring extensive analysis and public participation in the management of our national forests. It is not environmental or special interest groups that force environmental analysis, but instead it is Congress and our national environmental laws that require the Forest Service to conduct careful review of decisions and the resources they impact.

The cost of complying with our nation’s environmental laws is something Congress should support. Congress should allocate the appropriate level of funding to the national forests to do important activities like environmental analysis of proposed projects, wildlife monitoring, trail maintenance and law enforcement.

An article in the Associated Press recently disclosed that the Forest Service is considering expediting projects by streamlining rules protecting the environment and endangered species. Among other suggestions in a draft report, the Forest Service wants to limit court challenges to its decisions, and implement regulations restricting external review of protections for endangered plants and animals.

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The solution to deficiencies in the Forest Service’s budget is not to gut environmental review or make the Forest Service sue-proof. The Forest Service should continue to be held accountable to the public. But to insulate itself from future lawsuits, the agency should be given proper funding to adequately carry out its Congressional duties.

With the White River National Forest in his own district, our Representative, Scott McInnis (who is chair of the subcommittee overseeing management of all national forests), should make sure the Forest Service has the financial resources to manage the White River in a way that involves the public and protects our forest. So far, he hasn’t.

Call Congressman McInnis at 928-0637. After all, he’s the one who can help us fix this problem.

Jamey Fidel

Conservation Director

Aspen Wilderness Workshop

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