JAC, agency spar over proposed budget cuts to division of forestry staff

By Katie Roenigk

Riverton Ranger

Via Wyoming News Exchange

RIVERTON — Joint Appropriations Committee members questioned a forestry division personnel cut the Office of State Lands and Investments proposed during agency budget hearings in preparation for the budget session of the Wyoming Legislature beginning next week.

The reduction was part of a 2017 requirement to decrease funding for agencies throughout the state.

To accommodate the $189,000 cut, OSLI officials said they would eliminate two positions from the forestry division budget for a reduction of about $230,000.

“Looking at where we had done cuts in the last couple of years, people were the only place we could go even potentially to meet those (requirements),” state forester Bill Crapser explained.

Gov. Matt Mead recommended the legislature deny the proposal, which he said would “deeply impact our ability to respond (to emergencies),” according to Crapser.

Wyoming Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, wondered whether the forestry division was the “best place” to cut funding. Instead, he pointed to a $359,000 maintenance agreement in the OSLI budget.

“Perhaps … you take your (cut) there,” he said. “Will that impact the ability to cover fires in the state?”

OSLI director Bridget Hill said eliminating the maintenance agreement would not have an impact on fire suppression, but it would impede her agency’s ability to generate revenue from state trust land – “which is our mission.”

When considering funding reductions, she explained, OSLI looks at its established program priorities.

Conservation crews appear at the bottom of that priority list, she said.

“So for us, given the fact we looked at our constitutional duties first, statutory duties second, then anything that’s not either of those things last, it did make sense to us (to cut those positions),” she said.

Sommers reiterated that the recommendation is “hard for me to swallow,” expressing frustration at the nature of the reductions recommended by OSLI as well as other departments in the state.

“Often it would appear these (cuts) sometimes are directed to where it looks like the world’s going to end,” he said, pointing out that OSLI didn’t recommend any position reductions in its administrative division. “We’re going to cut boots on the ground in our first attempt to make a (reduction) and not anywhere else. I just don’t (see) this as the only or best place to take a cut in your whole agency.”

Hill said she understood his concern, but she noted that the OSLI priority list was developed with the agency’s mission and needs in mind and has maintained its structure over time.

“So when it came time to make (our) budget reductions, it made sense to look at that priority list,” she said, adding, “I didn’t want to recommend we cut this area either. But we were told to make a recommendation, (and) we believe in keeping with our mission … that it made sense. …

“When you say maybe we picked the one that looked like it would hurt the most, I don’t think we did that.”