November 13, 2013

Discretionary SpendingOption 13

Function 300 - Natural Resources and Environment

Eliminate Certain Forest Service Programs

(Billions of dollars) 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2014-2018 2014-2023
Change in Spending                        
  Budget authority 0 -0.6 -0.6 -0.6 -0.7 -0.7 -0.7 -0.7 -0.7 -0.8 -2.6 -6.2
  Outlays 0 -0.4 -0.5 -0.5 -0.6 -0.6 -0.6 -0.6 -0.7 -0.7 -1.9 -5.1

Note: This option would take effect in October 2014.

The Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service maintains the largest organization in the world devoted to research on forestry and rangeland. The Forest and Rangeland Research program addresses environmental and social concerns and provides information and tools to assist private industry and other stakeholders in the sustainable management and use of natural resources. Research in seven primary areas, ranging from the systematic collection of data on the trees that make up a forest to resource management and use, supports work in diverse areas: the development of new biomass and bioenergy products and markets (wood-based chemicals, biofuels, and products that can substitute for petroleum-based materials, for example), nanotechnology innovations in the development of wood products (making wood more dense for use in building materials or using materials from wood fibers to make composite windshields for defense vehicles, for example), and improvements in how resilient resources are to changes in climate. Another program, the Forest Service’s State and Private Forestry program, provides support to sustain forests and meet domestic and international demand for the goods and services that they provide. The program addresses forest health management, such as efforts to combat damaging insects, diseases, and invasive plants. It also focuses on assisting private landowners as they develop comprehensive plans to manage their forests for various purposes, such as product development, fire protection, and the maintenance of environmentally sensitive forestlands.

This option would eliminate the Forest Service’s programs in Forest and Rangeland Research and in State and Private Forestry. Doing so would save $5 billion from 2015 through 2023, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

One argument in favor of this option is that it is not efficient for the federal government to extend support to private industry because doing so distorts decisions about investments when the costs of developing new products—for example, fuels and chemicals derived from plant materials, and new durable composite materials and papers made from wood—do not have to be weighed against the potential gains from production. Similarly, in a well-functioning market, the domestic and international demand for forest and rangeland products and services would compensate resource managers for investing appropriately in the sustainable production of those goods and services.

One argument against this option is that the benefits of those programs are so widely dispersed that only the federal government has sufficient incentive to provide them. Accordingly, it would be appropriate, for example, for the federal government to conduct research and disseminate information on the resiliency of forest and rangeland resources to changes in climate. Similarly, because the benefits that forests and rangelands provide in terms of improved air quality, water quality, and habitat are not compensated through well-functioning markets, addressing forest health and the maintenance of environmentally sensitive lands could be an appropriate role for the federal government.