Washington, D.C. – During a House Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday, Congressman Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., pushed Trump Administration officials to explain proposed cuts to rural jobs programs in the Trump budget. Kilmer asked the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, why an initiative to promote forest collaboratives to help timber communities and another to repair roads and trails to expand outdoor access were cut in the president’s budget proposal.
Perdue and Tom Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, were appearing before the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing on the Forest Service budget.
Kilmer told Perdue and Tidwell that a forest collaborative he has help form of timber interests, environmentalists and community members is “really making progress in trying to increase harvest levels in a responsible way. We’ve got the conservation community and the industry at the same table working through some of these tough issues. I think it addresses a couple of the issues you raised. One, the value of public-private partnerships and two, trying to reduce litigation when it comes to timber sales. Having said that, I’m somewhat surprised to see the elimination of funding for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program in the budget because I think it is fundamentally important to sound stewardship. I was hoping you could speak to what the rationale was for that program’s elimination.”
Perdue said, “I support the budget and its conclusions but I think it would have been a bit different had we been there. The reason we were given was some duplicative programs but I would express my desire to see more public-private partnerships and we hope to persuade others in the administration that we get more bang for the buck that way.”
Kilmer sees the collaborative as a way to enable timber sales and restoration projects in national forests. He helped launch the Olympic Peninsula Forest Collaborative with regional leaders from the Forest Service, local governments, the local timber industry, and environmental advocacy groups. He says the collaborative is focused on increasing harvest levels, landscape restoration, watershed protection, and habitat conservation that will create economic opportunities on the Olympic Peninsula.
Kilmer also asked a question about the elimination of the Legacy Roads & Trails program in the President’s budget.
“Chief Tidwell, the last time I saw you, we were at an event celebrating the success of the Legacy Roads and Trails program and the removal of the 1000th culvert. And it was a pretty spectacular event in that you had recreationalist there, sports fishermen, and a bunch of stakeholders celebrating both the economic and ecological benefits of what is a pretty modest program in the grand scheme of things. This was another one where I was pretty shocked to see the full elimination of that program. It’s hard to argue with its success so I’m hoping you can explain the rationale behind that,” said Kilmer.
Secretary Perdue responded, “Thank you for coming in with two budget items that we would love to have your help on. Obviously, trails is one of those and we know that from an economic perspective as well as a recreational perspective if you can’t maintain them, you can’t get to it, and you can’t cut trees, and you can’t enjoy the beautiful landscape. We appreciate your help.”
Kilmer supports the program and in his testimony noted that since 2008 it has restored fish passage at 1,000 sites, improved almost 18,000 miles of roads for safety and flood resiliency, constructed or repaired 141 bridges for safety, and fixed 4,390 miles of trails for people to use.