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“Budget cuts threaten forests’ roads, hunting, fishing,” headlines the piece by McClatchy reporter Anshu Siripurapu. Trails “could get messier,” and maintenance on bridges, dams and recreation sites “could” become tougher. “That’s the potential fate of national forest projects, thanks to President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal 2018,” Siripurapu warns. The president seeks $100 million for forest service capital improvement and maintenance, down from $363 million and “a 73 percent cut.” Actually it isn’t, and we are not talking about trees here. The U.S. Forest Service is a federal bureaucracy and if it gets less money than bosses want, strictly speaking, that is not a cut. Likewise, as we noted, if a politician gets a raise of 4 percent instead of 6 percent, that is not a salary “reduction.” For all his alarm, Mr. Siripurapu nowhere questions whether the U.S. Forest Service has been doing a good job with all those taxpayer dollars.
As economist Robert H. Nelson notes, in a 2013 survey federal workers ranked the U.S. Forest Service worse than 260 out of 300 similar agencies. Forest Service mismanagement allowed wildfires to threaten communities and resources throughout the West at record levels, and this problem endured for 15 years. The agency also failed to address declines in forest health and dropped “multiple use management” in favor of “ecosystem management.” This resulted in “a radical curtailing of timber harvesting, forest thinning and other more aggressive actions that would have helped to address the continuing fire problem.” Nelson recommends a management model similar to charter schools, freeing the agency from a “bureaucratic straitjacket” and holding them accountable for results.
Sterling Burnett of the Heartland Institute told Siripurapu the government should consider selling some of its land to private companies to raise money and to reduce the amount of forest it has to manage. As Burnett explained, “There is no reason the federal government needs to own 100 million acres of forest.”