Budget cuts could force the state to lay off foresters and curtail protections for woodlands from wildfires, invasive insects and other dangers, officials warned Tuesday.
"It takes people to do the job — you can't do it with your cell phone," Tennessee Forestry Commission chairman Bill Williams told the Senate Environment Committee.
Under Gov. Phil Bredesen’s recommended state budget, Tennessee will lay off 200 workers, including 28 foresters, unless the legislature agrees to raise $50 million in new taxes on cable television and on dividends from real estate investment trusts. Also facing layoffs are prosecutors, public defenders and probation and parole officers. Republican legislative leaders already have come out against the cable TV tax.
Williams said the state Forestry Division is straining to fight wildfires and an onslaught of exotic insects such as the pine beetle and gypsy moth. Commission vice chairman John Ross said that of the 28 foresters who would lose their jobs, 23 work with private landowners to protect forests. About 20,300 square miles of forest land is privately owned in Tennessee, he said.
“These people are the eyes of the state and the public to see that environmental protection is carried out and that the land is taken care of. I do want to emphasize that it is critically important that these positions be kept,” Ross said.