By Keith Chu
Wescom News Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON The U.S. Forest Service and other federal land-management agencies were given a $2 billion funding boost by a U.S. House committee late last week, but the bill now faces a veto threat by President Bush.
If enacted, the bill would direct more money for wildfire preparedness, hazardous fuels reduction, trail maintenance and American Indian health care programs.
The committee approved the bill Thursday.
"Certainly increasing money for wildfire preparedness and hazardous fuels reduction is welcome news," said Andrew Whelan, spokesman for Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.
In total, the Appropriations Committee approved a $27.6 billion budget for the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and other federal agencies in 2008.
The White House has threatened to veto any spending bill that exceeds Bush's budget. But Norm Dicks, D-Wash., chairman of the interior and environment subcommittee, defended the extra spending.
"I do not know of one increase in the package which cannot be fully justified based on need or on ability to spend the money wisely," Dicks said.
The Bush administration had proposed cutting the Forest Service's overall budget by 4 percent, compared to 2006.
Spending to prepare in advance for the fires was slated to fall by 14 percent under the president's plan. Bush's proposed budget also would have meant a 15 percent decrease in spending for recreation and wilderness programs in Oregon and Washington, compared to 2006. At least some of those cuts will be offset by the increased funding.
The committee did cut a handful of programs, including $96 million from Park Service construction projects, where the agency faces a large backlog to maintain its existing road system, and $35 million from the president's request for the Smithsonian Institution.