Secret Stimulus: Federal Transparency Policy Fails to Crack Forest Service Code of Omerta

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Ventana Wilderness trails could use some work. How many of the 203 million stimulus dollars the Forest Service plans to spend in California will make it to places like this?

We know the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), better known as the Stimulus Bill, is funneling a lot of cash ($650 million) to the Forest Service, but how much of that cash does the Forest Service plan to let trickle down to the Ventana Wilderness and surrounding  Los Padres National Forest lands; and what will any money that survives the journey from Washington to Monterey County be spent on when it arrives?

Back in March, we discussed the heroic efforts of Los Padres ForestWatch to get Los Padres National Forest brass to reveal their top-secret list of projects recommended for ARRA funding. The ARRA specified that the money was to be used for “road maintenance and decommissioning, deferred maintenance work, abandoned mine cleanup, and other related critical habitat, forest improvement, and watershed enhancement projects.” Although projects like trail work, habitat restoration and watershed enhancement create more jobs, and thus have more “stimulus” effect, than things like road maintenance, and in spite of the critical need for these projects, ForestWatch feared that the Forest Service was planning to spend the bulk of the money on things like roads and buildings – and that the secrecy was motivated by a desire to cover up that fact. Click here to read ForestWatch’s account of that struggle.

ForestWatch was right to be afraid. Forest Service Headquarters, in Washington, has now made available a list of dollar amounts committed to broad project areas in various geographic (state or county) locations. In scanning this list for funds that could possibly pay for work in our area, we find (in order of total dollars allocated):

$30,300,000 for renovating and maintaining specific Forest Service administrative facilities in Los Angeles, Monterey, Plumas, Shasta, Siskiyou, Tehama and Ventura Counties.

$18,200,000 for demolishing or repairing old Forest Service facilities throughout most of California.

$10,100,000 for repairing or replacing Forest Service Water and Wastewater facilities statewide.

$7,179,000 for programs addressing invasive plant problems on state and private lands statewide.

$5,379,000 for repairing, repaving, chipsealing and aggregate surfacing Forest Service roads around the state.

$4,100,000 for building and maintaining Wilderness trails statewide.

$3,970,000 for hazardous fuel mitigation (clearing vegetation along roads and firebreaks and possibly removing dead trees in other places) in Fresno, Kern, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.

$2,190,000 to cover programs addressing insect and disease problems in California, Hawaii and Guam.

$1,795,000 to cover programs helping National Forests adapt to climate change or mitigate the impacts of climate change, throughout Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington.

Clearly, the fear that the Forest Service would place more emphasis on offices and roads than on habitat restoration and watershed enhancement was not misplaced! While some habitat restoration or watershed enhancement work might be snuck in under some of these categories, there isn’t any category specifically designed to fund this critically needed type of work.

While it doesn’t appear on their website, the Los Padres National Forest has apparently made available somewhere a list shedding a little, but only a little, more light on the types of work they’re planning to do with their ARRA funds (but not including any mention of how much they plan to spend on each type of project – which makes it difficult to guess how extensive the work is going to be).

From this list, as presented by ForestWatch, we gather the Los Padres National Forest is planning to:

Dip into the 30 plus million available for administrative facilities to build a new Forest Headquarters in Santa Maria and new buildings for the Monterey and Mt. Pinos Ranger District Offices.

Dip into the 18 plus million available for facilities decommissioning to decommission unspecified facilities “forestwide.” It’s impossible to tell which, if any, facilities in our area may be included.

Dip into the 10 plus million available for water and wastewater facilities to drill unspecified wells and clean unspecified water tanks. The Forest Service also announced, on October 7, that they are building new restrooms at Plaskett Creek Campground and Sand Dollar Beach. Is the money for these restrooms coming out of the ARRA wastewater facilities funds? The press release didn’t say.

Dip into the 5 plus million available for roadwork to repave existing paved roads “forestwide.” It’s unclear what this will mean for our area.

Dip into the 4 plus million available for Wilderness trail work to repair and maintain unspecified trails “forestwide.” A lot of people would like to know how much of the 4 million (which is all that’s available for trails throughout the entire state, remember) they’re going to spend here, as well as which trails, and how many miles of trail, they’re planning to work on – but that’s all still top-secret.

Dip into the almost 4 million available for hazardous fuel mitigation to do roadside clearing on “some or all” roads in the Forest. That’s clear, isn’t it?

Dip into (which category isn’t clear) to catch up on deferred maintenance at unspecified campgrounds.

Nothing on the list suggests the Forest Service is planning to draw on any of the funds available for dealing with invasive plants, insects, diseases or climate change for work in Monterey County.

And that’s about all we know. If you know more, please be in touch …

Burned Trail

The fire trimmed the brush back nicely, but the tread here needs some attention.

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2 Responses to Secret Stimulus: Federal Transparency Policy Fails to Crack Forest Service Code of Omerta

  1. C. M. Heard says:

    In the Monterey Ranger District the majority of our roughly 300 miles of trail need to be rebuilt, as opposed to lightly maintained. A rule of thumb I’ve heard is that it costs about $25000/mile to rebuild Wilderness trails such as ours. So it could be expected to take about $7.5 million to do what needs to be done just in our DIstrict. Clearly, the $4.1 million statewide really isn’t very much compared to the need. Too bad we can’t get a statewide budget comparable to that of a medium-size fire …

  2. xasauan says:

    With California’s 18 National Forests all potentially drawing on that $4.1 million, we’d guess that our District, which is just one part of one Forest, will be lucky to see even a few hundred thousand. So if it really does cost the Forest Service $25,000 to build a mile of trail (we’re starting to think we were seriously underpaid when we worked on trail crews years ago), a figure which we assume must include some massive bureaucratic overhead, we think we’ll be lucky to see 10 or 12 miles of trail fixed with stimulus funds. Considering how important trails are to the public’s use of their National Forests, and considering how many trails are on the verge of disappearing completely, assigning just 2% of the $203 million they’re spending in California to trails is basically an insult to Forest users. Bet that new Headquarters will be nice, though.

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