TWS and SAF lead letter in support of USFS R&D funding

By Jamila Blake

©Deborah Lee Soltesz, USFS Coconino National Forest

On Jun. 6, several organizations and professional societies, led by The Wildlife Society and the Society of American Foresters, sent a letter to both the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. The letter urges Congress to increase funding for U.S. Forest Service Research and Development (R&D) to at least $303 million in Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) — focusing primarily on Forest and Rangeland Research program areas outside of Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA).

Currently, the biggest threat to USFS R&D funding is eroding program budgets as a result of  fire borrowing and the growing costs of fire suppression. The annual cost of fire suppression for USFS continues to increase, while the overall agency budget remains capped, thus resulting in cuts to other important USFS programs, including R&D.  To further compound this issue, the cuts to R&D programs have not been evenly dispersed. In the past, FIA funding has remained constant or has increased while other R&D program areas have decreased, resulting in a  disproportionate  effect to R&D programs relating to wildlife and fish; invasive species; and resource management. For example, in Fiscal Year 2017, funding for FIA increased by $2 million despite overall R&D appropriations decreasing by $2 million. As a result, the remaining USFS R&D program areas took a $4 million cut in FY17.

Organizations that signed on to the letter — Society for Range Management, American Fisheries Society, The Nature Conservancy, Ecological Society of America, and the Center for Invasive Species Prevention, among others — hope to communicate the importance of advancing forest science to Congress during the appropriations process. USFS R&D program funding helps to improve the future health and sustainability of the nation’s forests and grasslands, and enables USFS staff to implement proactive forest research and management projects. Recent notable USFS R&D contributions include developing innovative solutions to manage invasive pathogens and species through use of eDNA technology; cultivating trees with a natural resistance to species like emerald ash borer; and successfully developing the first treatment for white-nose syndrome, among other efforts.

Benefits of USFS R&D are seen for at-risk species and people through identification of pragmatic solutions and best management practices. R&D generates an understanding of wildlife-habitat relationships for multiple species and communities to enable informed land management decisions. Additionally, R&D helps to improve smoke and fire management capabilities; calculate the value of urban forests and trees; expand and protect US market opportunities for forest resources; use science to guide drought management response; and quantify the role of forests in providing clean air and water.

For FY18, the President’s budget request recommends a $30 million decrease to overall R&D funding while still increasing inventory and monitoring by one percent. If the trends of reducing funding to R&D programs continues, significant gaps in the knowledge base and data sets necessary to address threats facing our nation’s forests may become prevalent and result in competitive losses in the global economy.

Jamila Blake is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Wildlife Policy and Programs team. Read more of Jamila's articles here.