January 20, 2004
Director, Watersheds and Wetlands Division
Natural Resources Conservation Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
P.O. Box 2890
Washington, DC 20013
Dear Mr. Director:
On behalf of the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), I am writing to offer comment on the proposed rule for implementing the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP). NASF is a non-profit organization that represents the directors of the state forestry agencies from all fifty states, eight U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. We applaud the efforts of the NRCS to improve the effectiveness of the program.
Although much of the restoration work performed under EWP is directed at restoring waterways affected by flooding, the program is valuable for its use in mitigating the threats to life and property immediately following an intense wildfire. State Foresters continue to support the work that has been accomplished with the aid of NRCS.
EWP is a highly effective program aimed at reducing the immediate threats on private lands following such natural disasters as wildfires and floods. It has been used many times to stabilize soil after intense wildfire removed soil-anchoring vegetation from steep slopes near critical watersheds. As important as the short term stabilization work is, it is equally important to follow up with a long-term solution, such as revegetating the area through tree planting. The Community and Private Lands Fire Assistance Program (CPLFA) will provide long-term fire rehabilitation assistance on private lands and should be used as an effective complement to EWP. Authorized in the 2002 Farm Bill but not currently funded, CPLFA will have the additional benefit of providing assistance directly to individual landowners.
One aspect of the program that NASF would like to see improved is funding source and timeliness. The program is currently funded largely through emergency supplemental appropriations, which can delay implementation of mitigation work unnecessarily. NASF recommends that funding be sourced from other areas that can provide more consistent coverage, such as pre-disaster funding for designated priority watersheds.
The term exigency continues to be used within the rule. Emergency measures to treat exigencies must be completed shortly after a disaster. Sponsors who can match EWP funds with 25% are not often immediately available. Therefore, under exigency conditions, EWP should be able to provide 100% of the cost to enable immediate emergency treatment to take place.
Exigencies may exist as a result of conditions on federal as well on private lands, and adequate funding to complete emergency stabilization activities on federal lands may not be immediately available in prior appropriations for the responsible federal agency. EWP program funds should therefore be available for treatment of exigency conditions on federal lands. Thank you for considering our comments. We look forward to the publishing of the final rule.
Burnell C. Fischer