Obama's Budget: Long on Acquisition, Short on Maintenance
President Obama's budget calls for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund but proposes to slice $206 million from the Forest Service Capital Improvement budget.
The Obama administration came roaring out of the federal lands money bill gate on February 14 with a piece of legislation that is simultaneously laudable but worrisome. Hikers should be pleased about some elements of this proposal but concerned about others. Here are the broad strokes, with cues added for the studio audience.
The President's budget calls for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which has a maximum allowable authorization of $900 million. That mark has only been hit twice in the program's 43 year history. President Bush promised to do so in his 2000 campaign for the presidency but never did. Many candidates have made the same promise.
LWCF is funded by a portion of receipts from oil and gas drilling for the purpose of acquiring lands that need to be protected, including forests, parks and wildlife areas. A good chunk of the lands purchased and donated to the Forest Service by The Cascades Conservation Partnership were bought using LWCF money. It's a great program, one that provides a great deal of benefit to hikers by preserving landscapes that would otherwise be developed. WTA supports full funding for LWCF.
But there's always a downside, isn't there?
Hikers should be disappointed that the administration proposes to slice $206 million from the Forest Service's Capital Improvements (CIP) line item, taking it down to $350 million. CIP dollars are fundamental to reestablishing trails that are close to being lost due to long-term neglect. See, the Forest Service just doesn't have the cash to maintain every mile of trail in the Pacific Northwest, and so they have to make tough choices. Inevitably, they have to leave maintenance of some trails for another year, and that becomes another year, and soon, easy fixes become large investments. Capital Improvement dollars fill in here and are used to put in the bridges and structures that we need to keep trails accessible and to reestablish lost tread so that hikers can follow their favorite backcountry routes.
So, what happens next?
The President proposes and Congress disposes. They will take his proposed budget under advisement and come up with a document that will, likely as not, have no resemblance to the initial outline. We're working with our Members of Congress to make sure they know how important those Capital Improvement dollars are to hikers in Washington state, and we need your help to do this. That's why we encourage you to call and email your federal elected officials. Tell them how important these funds are to you and urge them to carry the torch in their respective chambers.
Thanks so much for your hard work on behalf of trails and hikers!