The Bush administration's proposal to significantly cut the U.S. Forest Service's State and Private Forestry Program would harm communities throughout Maryland by virtually eliminating nearly 100 years of federal-state cooperation in forest conservation. Congress must not allow the federal government to leave state and local communities behind at a time when federal assistance is needed most.
The Bush administration's fiscal 2009 budget proposal calls for reducing Forest Stewardship funding by 83 percent and Urban and Community Forestry funding by 82 percent, with smaller reductions to the State Fire Assistance and Volunteer Fire Assistance programs. The Forest Stewardship program provides guidance to forest landowners to help them manage their lands better, while the Urban and Community Forestry program helps local communities, including Baltimore, to improve the health and quality of their trees. For example, the Urban Tree Canopy program offers cities and counties information on matters such as what types of trees are best to plant in particular areas, how to maintain them and how much water they require.
Together, these cuts add up to an estimated 60 percent reduction in federal funding for the State and Private Forestry Program's work in Maryland - $700,000 annually, which the state matches dollar for dollar. It's a small amount of money that provides huge benefits to all Marylanders.
Federal funding for sustainable state and private forestry is a wise investment. It helps to provide many important environmental benefits to Maryland citizens, wildlife and waterways, including our treasured Chesapeake Bay. Trees mitigate greenhouse gases that cause climate change, and they improve air and water quality. If these cuts go through, Maryland's ability to meet its commitment under the Chesapeake Bay Agreement to prevent loss of forestland will be severely challenged.
Severe fire seasons in recent years have shifted much of the money away from state and local forestry initiatives. In 1991, the U.S. Forest Service spent 13 percent of its budget on wildland fire suppression. In 2007, the figure was 45 percent. In a time of competing priorities and reduced federal revenue, the U.S. Forest Service is cannibalizing funding for state and private forestry.
The administration is abdicating its responsibility to the nation's state and private forests. If the chief of the U.S. Forest Service is truly the "nation's forester," she should be as concerned about private and state forestlands as she is about federally owned lands. This is not a partisan issue; it's about being responsible stewards of our forest resources.
The proposed cuts could not come at a worse time for Maryland, as the state's budget picture continues to darken. The cuts threaten the ability of the Maryland Forest Service to continue providing much-needed services:
Safeguarding Maryland's forests from the crippling threats posed by invasive insects such as gypsy moths and emerald ash borer, as well as diseases.
Improving the tree canopy and enhancing beauty in community forests and urban areas.
Protecting Maryland's forests from the threat of wildfire.
Planting trees to improve the health of local streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay and to mitigate climate change.
Keeping Maryland's forests as working woodlands supporting local communities and businesses.
A long-standing partnership, the State and Private Forestry Program represents a highly successful model of how state and federal government can work together to provide on-the-ground forestry assistance to solve problems and protect our natural resources. Targeting these programs for reductions abandons federal support for private forestlands that make up more than two-thirds of the nation's forestland and 76 percent of Maryland's.
Incentives for private landowners to keep forestlands as forest and manage them sustainably are declining rapidly and are often overpowered by economic forces. The lure of development is strong, and properly managed forestlands are declining as a result.
A recent report published by the Chesapeake Bay Program found that the bay watershed has lost 100 acres of forests per day since the early 1980s. Additionally, Maryland lost 6 percent (141,000 acres) of forestland from 1986 to 1999 - about 32 acres of forest per day during those 12 years.
Without federal support, many more landowners will find other uses for their forests, speeding up the loss of open space and adding to further degradation of the Chesapeake watershed. Congress must reject this attempt at short-term cost savings. The long-term cost to our communities is simply too great.
Steven W. Koehn is director/state forester for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service and treasurer for the National Association of State Foresters. His e-mail is email@example.com.