Trump budget proposes big changes in Forest Service, Interior spending

March 16, 2017

MISSOULA Montana’s two biggest federal players – the Forest Service and National Park Service – would see deep cuts and big changes under President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget.

The Department of Agriculture would absorb a 21 percent, $4.7 billion reduction. The Department of Interior, headed by former Montana congressman Ryan Zinke, would see a 12 percent, $1.5 billion cut.

Trump’s 62-page budget document does not provide detailed spending changes, but its narrative highlights certain priorities. Both departments commit to fully funding wildland firefighting through the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management at 100 percent of their respective 10-year averages. That works out to $2.4 billion for the Forest Service, while BLM’s figure was not specified.

Both agencies would see reduced funding for new federal land acquisitions through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that’s been consistently supported by Montana’s congressional delegation. The budget document was unclear if the $120 million in offshore oil royalties that now go to LWCF would be diverted to other areas or be shifted to maintaining and investing in existing parks, refuges and public lands.

Elsewhere in the federal budget proposal, the Department of Transportation calls for Amtrak funding to be reduced for long-distance train services, “which have long been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses.”

That likely refers to the Empire Builder route through Montana, which passes under Glacier National Park’s southern border. It would also eliminate the Essential Air Service to rural airports, saving $175 million, and take out $499 million from the TIGER discretionary grant program, which recently paid $4.5 million toward the Bitterroot Trail along Highway 93 between Missoula and Lolo. It would invest more than $1 billion at the Commerce Department’s National Weather Service.

The Agriculture budget would also reduce funding for USDA statistical capabilities and Service Centers while encouraging “private sector conservation planning.” It plans to save $95 million from the Rural Business and Cooperative Service and eliminates the International Food for Education program, stating it “lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity.”

It would eliminate $498 million in duplicative USDA water and wastewater loans and grants, saying rural communities could be served by private-sector financing or other federal investments such as the EPA’s state revolving funds. However, the EPA has its own budget slated for a 31 percent, $2.6 billion cut.

Trump’s budget proposes allocating $11.6 billion to the Department of Interior. Zinke’s office added that the budget eliminates duplicate programs for Abandoned Mine Land grants, National Heritage Areas and National Wildlife Refuge payments that overlap with other programs or should be funded at the local level.

New money would support Interior’s energy development programs on public lands and waters, including streamlining permitting processes and providing more industry access to public resources. Interior’s budget would also get $1 billion more to invest in Western-state water resources, although that was not further defined.

Payment in Lieu of Taxes funding to counties would be reduced an unspecified amount through the Interior Department budget. However, there was no mention in the Agriculture Department’s budget about PILT, although the Forest Service provides a much larger allocation of those federal assistance funds to local governments.

During a visit to Glacier National Park last week, Zinke pledged to tackle the National Park Service’s 12.5 billion deferred maintenance backlog. The Interior budget states it will increase funding for deferred maintenance, but doesn’t specify an amount. It also calls for unspecified cuts in current construction and major maintenance programs.

Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey would get more than $900 million for essential science programs, including research for sustainable energy development, satellite ground services and natural hazard risk reduction.