Comments on USFS Budget: Trails, Wildfire & Enforcement

The following is a letter that was recently submitted by BHA in regards to the U.S. Forest Service's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2015.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) is a national sportsmen conservation organization built upon the passion, hard work and commitment of members who value the solitude, challenge and overwhelming reward that hunting and fishing our wild public lands provides.  To carry our longstanding tradition forward, it is crucial our public land management agencies are adequately funded to maintain both the land and those who use the land.

Accordingly, we would like to submit comments on three key areas of importance to our members: trail maintenance, wildfire and enforcement of motorized use. 

Trail Maintenance

Sportsmen depend on an accessible and well-maintained trail system to access the lands they hunt and fish.  As the backlog of needed trail maintenance grows, sportsmen are having a more and more difficult time accessing their public lands. 

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is pleased with the proposed increase in trail maintenance funding.  Adequate funding and healthy partnerships are essential to ensuring that sportsmen have a place to hunt and fish. 

As highlighted in our recent letter to Chief Tidwell in March 2014, we’re committed to partnering with the USFS to help maintain the trails our members depend on.  However, to maximize the time and effort needed to maintain the trails in wilderness areas, we ask that the Minimum Tool Analysis be re-examined with public input

Funding of Wildfire Suppression

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers recognizes that fires are a natural part of a healthy ecosystem, and that many game and non-game species of wildlife depend on such natural disturbance to thrive.  Accordingly, we support the USFS’s ‘let-burn’ policy in wilderness and undeveloped areas both as a cost-saving measure and as a needed component of a natural landscape. 

However, we also recognize that as we continue to experience an increase in fire frequency and severity, as well as continued development in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), fire suppression needs and costs have steadily increased.  Unfortunately, funding for suppression activities has not followed suit.  This $500 million annual shortfall has caused the Forest Service to pull money from other non-fire funding sources, which has had a substantial impact on other non-fire land management activities that are important to public land sportsmen. 

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers supports the Wildlife Disaster Funding Act, which would classify the most severe fires (approximately 1percent annually) as natural disasters and make suppression activities eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding.  This system would ensure that budgets for non-fire activities such as trail maintenance, habitat restoration and enforcement are no longer raided for fire suppression.  Fixing this antiquated budgetary process makes sense on the ground and in Washington.  Thus Backcountry Hunters & Anglers stands by this proposal.     

Enforcement of Motorized Use

We want to express our deep concerns with the 12% budget reduction proposed for U.S. Forest Service (USFS) enforcement operations in the FY 2015 budget.  While we certainly understand the current fiscal situation and the need to make some tough budget choices, this proposed disproportionate cut in USFS enforcement funding could have a serious impacts on the integrity of the wildlife habitat on public land that our members depend on.

Enforcement personnel are critical to ensure maintaining the integrity of roadless habitat. They are also critical to ensuring that our public lands are used responsibly.

The USFS has been attempting to address illegal motorized abuse in recent years, even with diminished funds for personnel.  However, as evidenced by the attached member reports of hunts ruined by motorized abuse, illegal use of our public lands remains a major problem – and one that we’re committed to addressing.  We’re concerned the proposed enforcement could reverse much of the progress that has been made and have an overall negative impact on key wildlife habitat.

While meaningful and well-funded formal enforcement is certainly necessary, we also understand that enforcement personnel cannot be everywhere.  Thus, we have been working to help our public land managers and enforcement personnel in the following ways:

  • OHV Reward Fund Program.  Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has successfully implemented and promoted an OHV Reward Fund Program designed to encourage self-policing by sportsmen and report illegal motorized use on our public lands.  This program has led to numerous convictions and has been a welcomed aid to enforcement staff throughout the country.  However, for this program to be successful it is crucial that enforcement personnel have the time and funding needed to follow-up on reports.
  • Habitat Watchmen Program.  Members of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers volunteer to serve as the eyes and ears on the ground in National Forests throughout the West and Midwest.  Members help watch over specific areas and have been a welcomed extra set of eyes by USFS staff.
  • On the Ground Projects.  In Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado, BHA chapters have partnered with the USFS to restore habitat degraded by illegal motorized use.  We will continue to partner with the USFS on such projects, but as Benjamin Franklin so famously said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is pleased to partner with the USFS to ensure adequate and meaningful enforcement of the public lands our members depend on.  However, we can’t do it alone.  We urge the USFS to reconsider the 12% budget reduction for enforcement operations.

Whether it’s the $36 billion that our National Forest Lands contribute to the economy annually; the 450,000 jobs; or the longstanding outdoor traditions that drive and inspire sportsmen to work that extra hour, the value of having adequately-funded public land management agencies cannot be stressed enough.  We ask that you please consider this as you develop the U.S. Forest Service’s 2015 budget.

About Timothy Brass

State Policy Manager for @Backcountry_H_A. Hunter, Angler, Conservationist, Husband.

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