A Historical View of Funding Federal Land Management: the US

A Historical View of Funding
Federal Land Management:
the US Forest Service.
Paul Hirt
Associate Professor of History
Senior Sustainability Scholar
Arizona State University
The Problem
• The accomplishments of
federal land managing
agencies are largely
determined by what that
agency is empowered to do
by policy and enabled to do
by its budget.
• An agency may have a
mandate, yet lack the
financial resources to fulfill it.
The Problem
• There is a historical
and continuing
disjunction between
natural resource
management planning
and natural resource
management funding
that stymies balanced
management and goal-
Dimensions of the Problem
• Resource management planning is largely a
professional exercise; budgeting is political.
• Resource planning is long-term; the
appropriations process is annual.
• Congress will often direct an agency to achieve
certain objectives and authorize an adequate
budget for a task, then unabashedly fail to
provide the funds to accomplish the tasks.
• This is Congress’s prerogative. It is standard
Dimensions of the Problem (cont.)
• Budget politics shift with every election and
especially with changes in party majorities.
• Specific budget line items become the main
focus in appropriations debates rather than
the whole.
• Each interest group lobbies for its favorite
budget items, and against their competitor’s
• “Crises” and popular initiatives get funding
while other budget items languish or get cut.
Funding National Forest Management
• Originally a lump-sum budget from Congress
to administer national forests.
• Gifford Pinchot sought to retain receipts to
fund management, but Congress wanted more
oversight and control.
• Timber sale and grazing fee revenue returned
to Treasury.
• USFS not authorized to harvest timber on its
own; must contract with private sector to
accomplish management objectives.
Funding National Forest Management
• Early efforts to earmark funds for certain
– 25% Payments in Lieu of Taxes (1908)
– 10% returned receipts road fund authorized 1913
– Knutson-Vandenberg timber sale area betterment
funds (10% authorized in 1930, unlimited
retention of timber sale receipts permitted after
NFMA in 1976)
Publication date: 1996
Line Item Budgeting
• Over 20th century Congress & OMB become more
explicit about funding for distinct programs:
Timber sales administration
Road construction
Watershed and soil
Fire suppression
Research and cooperative forestry
Hirt, A Conspiracy of Optimism, p. 212
Budgeting Imbalance Under
Eisenhower Administration
Hirt, A Conspiracy of Optimism, p. 211.
Hirt, A Conspiracy of Optimism, p. 237.
Hirt, A Conspiracy of Optimism, p. 258.
On budget politics during the
1970s-1980s, see:
V. Alaric Sample, The Impact of
the Federal Budget Process on
National Forest Planning
(Praeger, 1990).
Events in the Late ‘60s and ‘70s
• National Timber Supply Bill of 1969: to reduce
lumber prices & stimulate home construction,
would earmark all timber sale funds for
intense silviculture to maximize production.
• RPA & NFMA: attempt to address disjunction
between planning and funding, arising out of
battle between Nixon and Congress.
• Expansion of K-V funds earmarked for “timber
sale area betterment” in NFMA (originally
authorized in 1930 Knutson-Vandenberg Act).
Forest Fire Funding—A special case
• Fire control/management has had its own
historical trajectory and is treated differently
than other forms of resource management
Horseshoe II fire, Chiricahua Mountains, 2011)
Blank Check for Fire Suppression
In 1908 Congress passed a law allowing the
Forest Service to overspend its budget during
fire emergencies and send it a bill afterward.
(S. Pyne, America’s Fires, 26.)
(S. Pyne, America’s Fires, 56.)
(S. Pyne, America’s Fires, 47.)
(S. Pyne, America’s Fires, 71.)
Monument Fire, Huachuca Mountains, 2011
Wallow Fire, White Mountains, 2011, largest fire in Arizona history.
S. Pyne, America’s Fires, p. 48.
Doug MacCleery, Reinventing the United States Forest Service, http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/ai412e/AI412E06.htm
Summary of Funding Mechanisms 1
• Lump sum budget with agency discretion
– perceived as undemocratic and insular
• Line item budgets with careful OMB and
congressional oversight
– Chronic problem of imbalanced funding of
integrated resource management
• Earmarks and receipts retention (10% road
fund, K-V funds)
• Blank check for “emergencies” (fire)
Summary of Funding Mechanisms 2
• Performance based funding
– attempted during Eisenhower Administration:
increase in timber sale and road budgets were
tied to higher timber harvest quotas. What about
resource goals lacking measurable outputs?
• Market-based funding
– Randall O’Toole, Reforming the Forest Service
(1988): make all national forests run on direct
receipts, end subsidies, marketize all forest uses.
Closing Thoughts…
• These are “public lands”; not a for-profit business.
• These are biological resources not a storehouse of
commodities. Many ecosystem services cannot be
effectively dollarized.
• No silver bullet. No funding mechanism can solve
all problems and none is without risks. “All of the
• Funding will always be politicized.
• “Democracy is the worst possible form of
government…except for all the rest.” (W. Churchill)

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