Congress Approves Big Increases for Recreation
I have only hazy recollections of my first trip in 2004 to DC to lobby for increased appropriations for recreation programs. Whether that haziness can be attributed to my aging brain or to the long, switchbacking slog we've been on these many years, I don't know. Finally, though, I feel as if we're starting to break out of the trees. Some clear blue sky is showing just around that next bend.
On October 29, the House and Senate agreed on an Interior Appropriations measure that included significant increases in Forest and Park Service recreation programs, and President Obama signed the bill the next day.
The 2009 and 2010 budgets are by far the best I've seen out of Congress in my career as WTA's policy advocate. Combined with stimulus funds geared toward recreation programs, these budgets will allow the Forest Service, in particular, to begin digging out of more than a decade of budget neglect.
Overall, the Interior bill approved by Congress and signed by the President on October 30 is a 17% increase over 2009 appropriations. The total comes in at $32.24 billion compared to 2009's $27.58 billion sum. That's a heavy increase, but the devil resides in the details. In this case, devilish is the last adjective I'd use. Here are some salient tidbits:
- National Forest Recreation: At $292.6 million, this item was increased $15 million over the FY 2009 appropriation.
- Forest Trails: The $85 million approved by conferees represents an increase of $3.8 million over 2009.
- Forest Service Firefighting: Increased by $455 million over the 2009 total of $2.137 billion. That total includes $413 million for catastrophic wildfire funding authorized by the one-year FLAME Act.
- Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): This important land acquisition program was allocated $305.8 million. Of that, $40 million will be distributed to the states to administer. The total number represents a $125.8 million increase over 2009 appropriations.
- Park Service: Overall, the agency received a $218 million bump. Recreation and Preservation programs were increased by $8.7 million to $68.4 million, and the NPS Centennial Challenge received $15 million. The Centennial Challenge went unfunded in 2009.
So the trend is pointing up, and has been for a couple of years now. But we can't lose sight of the fact that our Pacific Northwest Forests still struggle under a deferred maintenance backlog totaling in the tens of millions of dollars. It will take quite some time to dig out.
In the meantime, please take a moment to thank your member of Congress. Washington's congressional delegation has always been very supportive of our efforts in the other Washington, and they deserve our gratitude. In particular, if you live in Congressman Norm Dicks' district, give his office a call and convey very hearty thanks for his heavy lifting as Chair of Interior Appropriations. He made all this good news possible. You can find your representative here.