2015 Budget Testimony of Ed Shepard, President Public Lands

April 10, 2014
We thank you for this opportunity to present your committee with our views regarding the
Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) budget request for FY 2015. As a national, non-profit
organization with more than 700 members, comprised principally of retired, but still dedicated,
BLM employees, the Public Lands Foundation (PLF) has a unique body of experience, expertise
and knowledge of public land management. As retirees, we believe we offer an objective and
non-bureaucratic view of what is currently happening on the National System of Public Lands
(NSPL). The PLF supports the BLM and its programs, but we are independent in our views and
requests. We strive to improve the effectiveness of the BLM by 1) encouraging professionalism
of its employees, 2) increasing the public’s understanding of and support for the proper
management of the NSPL, and 3) promoting scientific management of lands administered by the
The public lands provide the Nation with opportunities for expanding the development of
renewable energy as well as the traditional needs for oil, natural gas, coal, non-energy minerals,
grazing land, and timber. Recreation, wildlife habitat, wild horses, cultural resources and special
places are significant attributes of those lands as well. BLM management activities contribute to
the vitality of state and local economies, generating revenues in excess of $4.5 billion annually.
The multiplier effect from the use of these lands greatly expands the economic benefits to
communities many times. According to the Department of the Interior Economic Contributions
report of June 21, 2011, the public lands generated a combined economic effect in excess of
$120 billion and over 550,000 full and part-time jobs. However, these revenues are best
achieved when there is some balance in the programs to provide for the diversity of uses and
maintenance of healthy landscapes.
Budget Overview
The PLF recognizes the difficult situation the Nation is in and fully appreciates the hard
decisions that must be made, by Congress and the Administration, to reduce the budget deficit.
To that end, the PLF is supportive of requests for the BLM that support the wise development of
energy resources, both traditional and renewable; and other resource uses and development that
provide opportunities to reduce dependence on foreign resource use while generating revenues to
fund other important programs. We also support the proposal for a congressionally chartered
national BLM Foundation to help the BLM work with the public to bring key resources to assist
in the management of the NSPL.
Of all of the challenges and opportunities facing the BLM, probably none receives more
passionate public input than the Wild Horse and Burro program. We are dismayed that, despite
repeated efforts by the BLM, the issue seems unsolvable and the Bureau continues to be stymied
in implementing solutions that have been suggested by GAO, recommended in the June 2013
National Academy of Sciences Report, and are acceptable to the American public.
The current situation is unsustainable. There are nearly 50,000 animals in holding facilities.
Long term holding facilities are at capacity and approximately 14,700 horses are in short term
holding. It is estimated that lifetime care of animals in short term holding is $46,000 per animal.
That would cost a total of $676 million plus the almost $50 million annually for long term
holding if something isn’t done soon. Holding costs alone make up over 60% of the program
costs, leaving grossly inadequate funding for gathers, adoptions, research and population control.
There are another 40,000 animals on the range, almost 14,000 animals above the appropriate
management levels. This number continues to grow as the problem remains unresolved. The
BLM has neither the budget to gather excess horses and burros nor the budget or the space to
place and care for additional gathered animals. The demand to adopt wild horses has declined
significantly over the last decades and has not kept pace with the number of horses that need to
be removed from the range.
Failure to remove excess animals and use long-term fertility control drugs, including some level
of sterilization, will result in destruction of rangelands with attendant impacts on wildlife,
impacts on threatened and/or endangered species, serious economic impacts and, ultimately,
starvation of horses and burros, not to mention the staggering costs to American taxpayers. At
some point Congress must step in and pass legislation that provides more specific guidance on
this program.
We urge Congress to approve the increase of $2.8 million for the Wild Horse and Burro program
included in the FY 2015 Proposed Budget. This increase would allow the BLM to continue
multi-year studies focused on the development of more effective and longer-lasting fertility
control agents and techniques. It would also further the BLM’s implementation of the National
Academy of Sciences recommendations made in 2013.
The PLF strongly supports maintaining effective funding levels in the fiscal year (FY) 2015
appropriations process for essential wildfire risk reduction and protection programs at the USDA
Forest Service and Department of the Interior. The important work accomplished through the
Hazardous Fuels programs and the State Fire Assistance program helps decrease total federal
emergency wildfire suppression costs and helps reduce the threat of fire to communities and
valuable public lands.
America’s forests and forest-dependent communities are at risk from outbreaks of pests and
pathogens, persistent drought, and the buildup of hazardous fuels. Urbanization and development
patterns are placing more homes and communities near fire-prone landscapes, leading to more
destructive and costly wildfires. In 2013, 47,579 wildland fires burned more than 4.3 million
acres. In the wake of these larger fires, 2,135 structures were destroyed, including over 1,090
residences. Of the 72,681 communities across the country currently at risk of wildland fire, only
12,434 (17.5%) have prepared a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Reducing the number and
extent of damaging wildland fires and keeping life and property safe requires coordination across
federal, state, tribal and local units of government. Hazardous Fuels and State Fire Assistance
programs have a significant role in reducing the threat of wildland fire on federal, state, private,
county, municipal and tribal lands and further help communities and first responders prepare for
and respond to wildland fires quickly and safely.
The Forest Service and Department of the Interior were forced to transfer $636 million in FY
2013 to fund fire suppression activities. In the span of only two years – FY 2012 and 2013 – the
agencies were forced to transfer more than $1 billion that Congress had appropriated to other
priority programs to fund wildland fire suppression. We urge Congress to avoid transfers in FY
2015 and beyond by including appropriations language mirroring the bi-partisan Wildfire
Disaster Funding Act, introduced in the House and Senate (S. 1875 & H.R. 3992). This
important change to fire funding at the federal level is needed to prevent future transfers and
ensure that the Forest Service and Department of the Interior can achieve their land management
objectives by implementing activities needed to address the growing buildup of hazardous fuels
on federal lands.
The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would not only relieve agencies by funding a portion of
suppression like other natural disasters, but also provide appropriators with the added flexibility
in the Interior Appropriations bill to allocate funding for activities that reduce fire risk and longterm suppression costs. The following recommendations for hazardous fuels are based on the
enactment of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act.
The Hazardous Fuels Programs at the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior are the
primary source of funding used to reduce wildfire risk on Federal lands. In FY 2013, the Forest
Service treated over 2.6 million acres—with over 1.7 million of those acres within the Wildland
Urban Interface (WUI). Bureaus at the Department of the Interior treated 643,184 acres in FY
2013—over 73% of which were in the WUI. In FY 2015, we urge Congress to provide $479
million for the Hazardous Fuels Program at the USDA Forest Service and $178 million for the
Hazardous Fuels Program at the Department of the Interior.
The State Fire Assistance program, funded through the USDA Forest Service, is a critical tool to
help states support local wildland firefighting preparedness, capacity building and wildland fire
mitigation. Funds are matched at least dollar-for-dollar from non-Federal sources. In FY 2013,
State Fire Assistance directly funded hazardous fuel treatments on nearly 130,000 acres and
treated another 119,127 with leveraged funding. State Fire Assistance funds also increased
capacity of First Responders in 12,041 communities and directly assisted another 11,562
communities with preventive measures, including fuels reduction in the wildland urban interface.
We urge Congress to fund the State Fire Assistance program at $86 million in FY 2015.
The PLF is very concerned with the proposed decrease of $10.5 million in the Oregon and
California Grant Lands funding and requests that this be restored to its 2014 enacted level of
$114.5 million. Such a cut would undermine the BLM’s capability to manage these unique
forestlands for their mandated purposes and would have devastating impacts to county
governments, rural communities, businesses, and workers that depend on these forests. The
BLM is in the process of revising Resource Management Plans, however, it is unlikely the plans
will be completed in June 2015 as stated in the Administration’s budget request. Reductions at
this time impact the timely completion of the plans. In addition, the BLM is under a court order
in Swanson Group Manufacturing v. Salazar to substantially increase the harvest of timber in
certain districts to declared plan levels per the O&C Act of 1937. The proposed budget
decreases will hamper the Bureau’s capabilities to comply with this order without impacting
other important resource programs on the O&C lands.
In 1992, Congress established the Forest Ecosystem Health and Recovery Fund (P.L. 102-381) to
authorize the BLM to recover dead and dying timber rapidly and restore the forested area
quickly. This Fund was later broadened to include forest health treatments. The Fund provided
that Federal share of moneys received from the disposal of the timber from these treatments
would remain available, without further appropriation, for the BLM to conduct similar
treatments. Since that time the BLM has successfully treated tens of thousands of acres using
this authority. It has been an important source of funds on the O&C lands, but in particular on
the Public Domain forestlands to restore the health of forests. In 2009, Congress chose to sunset
this fund at the end of FY 2015, pending reauthorization. We strongly encourage the Congress
to restore authority for this important funding tool permanently, or in the alternative, for a period
of not less than 10 years.
The PLF strongly supports the dedicated professional employees of the BLM and other agencies.
Public employees have stepped up to the plate to contribute their share to the deficit issues facing
the Country. For the last several years these committed public servants have done their best to
implement the wishes of the Administration and Congress. We ask that this subcommittee do
what it can within its powers to support the dedicated employees in the resource management
Mr. Chairman, we do appreciate the hard choices that this Subcommittee has before it. Perhaps
the creation of a BLM Foundation would help leverage scarce budget dollars. The BLM is the
only major land management agency without a congressionally chartered foundation in place to
support its efforts. A BLM Foundation could help bring additional resources to key initiatives
like the National Conservation Lands, wild horses and burro management, restoration projects,
and many other areas. We hope that our comments will be of help as you work through the FY
2015 budget process.