When George W. Bush campaigned for president, he stumped in the Northwest as a friend of forgotten rural residents. Now, proposed cuts in Bush's fiscal year 2003 budget may pull the rug out from under some of those people.
Over the last several years, Pacific Northwest timber communities and workers have retooled to perform more environmentally sustainable jobs. Using start-up grants, local non-profit groups have helped small businesses and workers network, train and get government contracts for stewardship and ecosystem restoration projects (HCN, 4/1/02: A new world in the woods). They also are gearing up to help implement the National Fire Plan. After the last big wildfire season in 2000, Congress appropriated $250 million for forest and watershed restoration and hazard reduction. Specifically, $12.5 million would go to hire small contractors, mostly to remove overgrown underbrush and small trees.
But President Bush's new Forest Service budget proposal calls for eliminating the $12.5 million. It would also do away with $60 million for technical assistance and funds to help communities and businesses become economically self-sufficient; $10 million for Pacific Northwest areas hit by reduced federal timber harvests; and agency authority to make special contracts and cooperative agreements with communities and organizations.
"To have the administration cut us off at the knees is confusing and disheartening," says Diane Snyder, head of Wallowa Resources in Enterprise, Ore.
Snyder's group and others from Oregon, Washington, California and other states are lobbying Congress to increase awareness of the program's benefits. Says Maia Enzer of Sustainable Northwest: "It's not in the public interest to have rural communities continue to spiral into poverty."