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Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today convened a hearing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget request for the U.S. Forest Service. Senator Feinstein chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies and presided over the hearing.  U.S. Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell appeared as the primary witness. 

During her opening remarks and in her questions, Senator Feinstein focused on the following topics: an overview of the agency’s proposed FY 2010 budget request, including proposed cuts to hazardous fuels reduction funding; firefighter retention in high risk areas; fire suppression and firefighting aviation needs; the backlog of Quincy Library Group fuels reduction projects; and the Administration’s efforts to eradicate marijuana grown on national forests.

            Following is the text of Chairman Feinstein’s prepared remarks:

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  On behalf of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, I welcome you to our hearing on the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Request for the U.S. Forest Service. I’m pleased to welcome Gail Kimbell, Chief of the Forest Service, before the Subcommittee.

I’d like to start this morning by saying that I think this budget is a good first step toward meeting the needs of our national forests.  Now, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement, because there certainly is.  We’ll talk about some of the priorities that are left out of this budget.   But the request lays a foundation that this Committee can build on.

I’d also like to express my appreciation that the President has requested $200 million in supplemental firefighting funds for the Forest Service before fire season begins in earnest this year.  That’s a welcome change from the position of the previous Administration. 

As the recent fires in Santa Barbara showed, it is likely that we are in for another brutal, expensive fire season.  It is my hope that these funds will help prevent the Service from borrowing from other programs to pay for firefighting needs this year.  

Turning to the particulars, the President has requested $5.226 billion for the Forest Service for FY 2010, an increase of $480 million over the FY 2009 enacted level.  That’s a welcome 10 percent increase.

Most importantly, I am pleased that the new Administration recognizes that firefighting costs are likely to exceed the 10-year fire suppression average – and has submitted a budget that reflects that reality.

The budget request fully funds the increase in the 10-year average for a total of $1.128 billion.  It also includes a new $282 million reserve fund that’s available to the Forest Service if its regular appropriations run out before the end of the fiscal year.  

The budget also invests in the Service’s aging network of facilities, roads and trails.   Overall, the Service’s capital improvement and maintenance program is funded at $557 million, an increase of 15 percent over the enacted level.  That includes a $50 million initiative to help address the agency’s $5 billion backlog of deferred maintenance and create jobs.

Finally, the budget request includes a $42 million boost to State and private forestry programs, targeted specifically to protecting open spaces through conservation easements. 

These are all important priorities, and I am pleased to see them funded.   However, at the same time, I am also concerned that the budget request shortchanges other priority needs to pay for these initiatives.

In particular, this budget proposes to reduce hazardous fuels reduction programs by $13 million.  That’s a 4 percent cut to fire prevention – at a time when we’re pouring money into firefighting programs.  This cut just doesn’t make any sense, and I won’t support it.  In fact, I plan to increase funds for fuels reduction in the FY 2010 Interior bill.  

I am also concerned that the request funds fire preparedness programs at $675 million, equal to the enacted level. That means that the Service will be forced to shift more costs for firefighter salaries and equipment to the fire suppression program – further driving up the 10-year average.

The request funds operating programs for national forests at $1.5 billion, also equal to last year.   That means important programs like forest products and law enforcement are being cut back.   And other cooperative programs face the chopping block, including a 6% cut to State and local fire assistance and a 4 percent cut to programs that fight insects and disease.

In short, I think these programs deserve more support – and I plan to ensure that the rising tide of this budget lifts all of the agency’s programs, not just a select few.

Now I’d like to turn to my Ranking Member, Senator Alexander, for any comments that he wishes to make.”