Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition (SUFC) Advocates for High-Impact Federal Investment in Urban & Community Forestry
Over the past several months, the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition (SUFC) Policy Working Group (WG) has coordinated advocacy around a number of legislative recommendations to both the House and Senate Interior and Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees on President Obama's FY 2017 proposed budget for federal programs under the Subcommittees jurisdiction.
The Subcommittee -- officially called the Senate [or House] Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies -- determines the funding levels for the critical Urban and Community Forestry Program (U&CF) as well as a host of other important programs and services within the USDA Forest Service, including Community Forests and Open Space Conservation Program (CFP); Forest Health Management; Forest and Rangeland Research; Non-native Insects and Diseases Research; Urban Forest in Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA); EPA and National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
In late April, the Policy WG sent a letter from SUFC members to the leadership of the Senate and House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittees expressing our concern with the significant decrease (16%) in the U&CF program in the President's FY 2017 budget which will have negative impacts in states and territories across the country, affecting many local public and private partners and collaborative projects in which federal assistance has been essential.
As the letter states: "The decrease will erode the capacity that has been developed in cities and towns of all sizes through the technical and financial assistance delivered by state forestry agencies in partnership with the U&CF program. SUFC recommends the Urban and Community Forestry Program be funded at $31.3 million in FY 2017."
In analyzing the House Interior Bill and Report [released in late May and accessible here and here], State and Private allocation is at $244.038 million -- roughly $10 million more than President's request. This plus-up* resulted in level funding for U&CF at $28.04 million and an increase to Forest Health Management with an additional $15 million split between Coop and Federal lands. Unfortunately, the EPA's Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF) saw a drastic cut of almost 30% in one year from $1.393 billion to $1.0 billion. The House did not adequately respond to the needs demonstrated by SUFC and a broad coalition of the water sector and restore the cut of $414 million the Administration proposed. While green infrastructure would be an allowed use of the CWSRF with no threshold, this drastic cut impacts the amount of funds available for green infrastructure projects in cities and towns across the U.S.
The Senate Interior Bill and Report, released in late June, was not in line with our priorities. U&CF was allocated at the President's request of $23.68 million as was the Forest Health Management numbers with $40.68 million for coop lands. Research and Development also took a hit. Where the House was in line with the President's request, the Senate came in at an $11 million decrease to FY16 enacted at $280 million.
Fortunately, the Senate responded more favorably to the Clean Water State Revolving Funds advocacy, and came in under the FY16 enacted level of $1.39 billion at $1.35 billion, but much higher than the President's request of $979.50 million.
The key now is to continue reaching out to our congressional members advocating for the plus-ups from the President's budget. This ensures when the House and Senate conferences on the Interior Appropriations bills or, more likely, an omnibus, they are aware of our concerns.
The destruction of our nation's urban forests caused by non-native insects and diseases was not lost on the WG. In fact, the aforementioned letter to the Subcommittee strongly urges for language in the Interior Appropriations report to encourage the U.S. Forest Service to increase funding for research targeting non-native insects and pathogens. The House responded to our concerns with key language regarding the Committee's concern with invasive forest pests and encouraging the U.S. Forest Service to continue its work to improve the health of forest ecosystems.
In a letter to both the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies, a number of SUFC members, led by Faith Campbell, Center for Invasive Species Prevention, asked the Subcommittee to: [M]aintain the Fiscal Year 2016 funding levels for the "Tree and Wood Pests" line and the "Specialty Crops" line under the USDA APHIS Plant Health program. While Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee did just that, with $54 million and $158 million, respectively, the House came out with $45.93 million for Tree and Wood Pests, and a higher amount, $167.5 for Specialty Crops. Unfortunately, the House specifies the increases for programs addressing fruit flies, citrus and such.
*Money for a program not part of the President's request.