This week put the end to hopes of passing the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (the Act), during the 2014 congressional cycle. The Act received wide bipartisan support from over 100 congressional members. Outside the Capitol more than 250 organizations including conservation, environmental, tribal, private sector, wildlife, local government, state and federal agencies and many other interests also came together to support the Act.
The large and diverse list of supporters is a strong indicator that the Act is a positive solution to real problems for the health of our national forests and wellness of the public, wildlife and environment. Our national forest lands will continue to be at great risk until the issue is address. According to a U.S Forest Service policy analysis , over 73 million acres of our national forest lands are at risk to insects, disease, and wildfire due to their overly dense condition. These conditions will continue to get worse without necessary actions to address forest health and fuels reduction.
The passage of the Act would dramatically change the way the United States federal government funds wildfire in attempt to end the destructive cycle of robbing non-fire accounts in the Forest Service budget in order to pay for wildfire suppression.
Often, the U.S.Forest Service exhausts its suppression budget, generally months before the end of the fire season. The Forest Service must dip into other accounts disrupting projects, such as forest products, hazardous fuels, fish and wildlife, and vegetation management to provide the needed suppression funds. This practice is known as “fire borrowing,” In fact, wildfire suppression costs now consume nearly 50% of the total budget for the Forest Service.
“Borrowing” from other accounts to cover wildfire suppression can have long-lasting negative impacts on forest management, forest health and the health of our watersheds – on federal and private forestlands. As we all know, fires don’t discriminate between ownerships and can devourer everything in its path.
By creating a new method of funding emergency fire suppression, we can ensure monies are available for fighting fires without continuing to hold hostage the important restoration, fuels reduction and other vital conservation projects. The Act would halt the practice of diversion of funds to fire suppression from other priority programs.
Ensuring funds are available to complete proactive forest health, fuels reduction, and restoration projects can set the stage to encourage others to invest time and resources to forest management and community preparedness activities.
2015 is a new year and hopefully will bring a real solution to a major hurdle that is enabling the funding to improve and protect the health of our nation’s natural resources. We urge congress to make this their top priority in the New Year.