March 03, 2004
Murkowski, responding to a proposed 16 percent decrease in the Forest Service's State and Private Forestry Program (a $63.8 million reduction), said she is troubled by the proposed cuts. She said she hopes that funding can be shifted to forestry efforts, specifically to restore some $25 million in proposed cuts to the Economic Action Program (EAP), which for the last two years has provided $2 million yearly for grants to small lumber-storage facilities in Alaska. "My constituents in Alaska have come to rely upon our forestry (industry). Many communities rely upon the EAP in order to diversify their forest-dependent economies. (With this budget) the Administration is sending a message to Congress that assistance to small forest-dependent communities is not a priority. In this day of declining timber sales and increased litigation regarding sustainable forestry industries, most notably in the Tongass National Forest, I question how the Forest Service is going to assist the communities that survived for many years utilizing the fiber that seems to be no longer available for their economies," said Murkowski.
"We owe it to these communities to help them diversify their economies and support them in maintaining healthy forests, healthy lands along with a strong economic base," she said.
The EAP program the past two years has provided 17 grants to communities and firms in Alaska, 11 of the grants going to help fund dry kilns, planers and lumber storage facilities to help small timber operations, from Alaska Fibre in Petersburg to Nenana Lumber Co. in the Railbelt.
Murkowski said cuts also have been proposed for the Federal Land Enhancement Program (FLEP), which provides aid to the Alaska State Division of Forestry to help private landowners fund forest land enhancement practices. Noting the need for increased reforestation efforts given the effects of spruce bark beetle kills, especially on the Kenai Peninsula, Murkowski urged that funds be reprogrammed in the FY 05 budget to provide FLEP grants for wildfire fuel reductions and to improve timber stands. "Without funding, Alaska landowners will have no opportunity to make needed forest health improvements on their lands," said Murkowski, who noted that Alaska received $830,640 in FLEP funds last year.
Mark Rey, the Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment in the Department of Agriculture, said he expects Congress will continue to fund EAP grants, including pending grants for Alaska. He said the Administration certainly intends to fund forest fuel reduction efforts authorized by last year's Healthy Forest Restoration Act grants intended to help remove dead wood from forests that form the fuel for wildfires.
Murkowski in her questioning noted that Alaska, which has some 5 million acres of dead trees, most caused by spruce bark beetle kill in Southcentral Alaska, is in particular need of funding for hazardous fuel reduction. She noted that the budget calls for a cut in state fire assistance grants, for example, of nearly $17 million. She said that money is critical to reduce hazardous fuels, especially on the Kenai Peninsula. She also urged the Administration to fund the use of biomass technologies and research, both called for in the Healthy Forest law, to further reduce the danger of wildfires on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Anchorage area.
The Administration budget does include $33 million of new money for the fuels reduction effort nationwide, some of that money likely to go to Alaska, Rey said.
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