The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today released information showing how limited federal firefighting budgets have impacted states over the last two fiscal years (FYs 2012 and 2013). The state-by-state report provides examples of how funding for local wildfire preparedness, forest restoration, and other activities in nearly every state across the country has been used to instead fight fires when wildfire suppression budgets did not fully cover firefighting costs.
The President’s FY15 Budget proposed a new approach to addressing wildfire suppression costs, modeled after bipartisan legislation introduced in both houses of Congress. The new proposal would set aside an emergency fund, similar to emergency funds already available for other natural disasters, to cover costs for the most catastrophic of wildfires, avoiding the pattern in recent years of raiding other critical programs. This new approach provides certainty in addressing growing fire suppression needs while better safeguarding preparedness, maintenance and forest health programs from fund transfers that have diminished their effectiveness.
“With longer and more severe wildfire seasons, the current way that the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior budget for wildland fire is unsustainable,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Until firefighting is treated like other natural disasters that can draw on emergency funding, firefighting expenditures will continue to disrupt forest restoration and management, research, and other activities that help manage our forests and reduce future catastrophic wildfire.”
The wildfire season is 60-80 days longer and burning twice as many acres as compared to three decades ago. In the early 1990s, the Forest Service spent less than 15 percent of its budget on fire suppression. Today the agency spends 40 percent or more for fire suppression. Over the long term, this has meant the agency has shifted resources away from forest restoration and management, research, state and private forest assistance and other activities that help maintain our forests and reduce future catastrophic wildfire.
From the U.S. Forest Service: http://www.fs.fed.us/news/releases/usda-releases-state-state-impacts-limited-wildfire-suppression-recent-years