WASHINGTON, D.C. - The House Agriculture Committee held an oversight hearing today to review the Forest Land Enhancement Program (FLEP) which is in danger of not being fully implemented in the remaining years of the program's life. The 2002 Farm Bill allocated $100 million in mandatory funding for the program; however, the program has only received $20 million of the mandatory funding to date. The Committee heard from two panels of witnesses, including the Administration and several forestry, wildlife, and landowner organizations. A complete witness list is available at the bottom of the release.
In fiscal year 2003, the first year of implementation, $20 million in mandatory funding was released to implement FLEP. Since then however, there has been no release of money.
"Congress created FLEP because we recognized the important economic and ecological contributions made by the nation's 9 million family forest landowners, who steward over 360 million acres of forests," Chairman Goodlatte said. "Unfortunately, what could have been an exemplary case of a flexible program promoting forest productivity and conservation has not come to fruition, with some funds being diverted to other purposes."
The Forest Land Enhancement Program was developed as a flexible companion program to the Forest Stewardship program that would utilize the existing State Stewardship Committees to identify a range of needed forest conservation and productivity practices that most efficiently met the needs of each state. States electing to work with the committees would receive funding to be designated to education, technical assistance, or financial assistance to landowners.
Earlier this year, the Administration proposed eliminating $40 million of FLEP funds as part of their fiscal year 2005 budget submission, which Congress has not agreed to. In his prepared testimony, Mark Rey, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment at USDA, informed the Committee that the Department will make available $15 million for FLEP, through 2005.
Goodlatte maintained that he was encouraged by the Administration's new position when he said, "It is crucial that the Administration work with us to fully implement this $100 million mandatory program. The Secretary is obligated to spend the full $100 million made available in the Farm Bill. We are badly off track in implementing this mandate. I am pleased to hear that the Administration has made clear their intentions with regard to FLEP. The 2002 Farm Bill took important steps to streamline and modernize forest landowner assistance programs, but it also reaffirmed the partnership between the Forest Service and the State Foresters as the delivery mechanism for technical and financial assistance. Full implementation of FLEP is critical to the priorities set forth during the Farm Bill."
The Honorable Mark E. Rey, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Jim Garner, Virginia State Forester, Charlottesville, Virginia, on behalf of the National Association of State Foresters
Mr. John Burke, Tree Farmer, Richmond, Virginia, on behalf of the American Forest Foundation
Mr. Gary Nakamura, Council Member, Society of American Foresters, Redding, California .
Mr. Tim L. Gothard, Executive Director, Alabama Wildlife Federation, Milbrook, Alabama
Mr. Bryan J. Burhans, Director of Land Management Programs for Conservation Programs, National Wild Turkey Federation, Edgefield , South Carolina