Every year, it seems, our nation’s summer headlines are filled with news of droughts, storms and the inevitable wildland fires that wreak havoc on our forests.
Last week, the U.S. Forest Service announced that for the first time in its more than 110-year history, it is spending more than 50 percent of its budget on suppressing the nation’s wildfires.
The report indicated that within 10 years, the agency will spend more than two-thirds of its budget to battle the wildfires that have become increasingly abundant.
Congress is getting this all wrong, and our legislators need to take action on legislation that would change the way fire suppression efforts in our country are funded.
Currently, when the USFS exceeds its firefighting budget, the agency takes funding from other programs, like forest thinning and management.
Funds spent on fire suppression by the USFS have exceeded its firefighting budget in all but five years since 2000, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Much the same is true for spending by the Department of Interior.
“Since 2001, Interior funds spent on fire suppression exceeded the budgeted amount in all but eight years,” the release said.
There are proposals in place that could help alleviate some of these funding issues.
The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act was introduced in January and has since been referred to a committee on federal lands.
The proposed bill would provide a way to treat wildfires more like other natural disasters. This would allow more funding to be directed to the programs that can help prevent such fires in the first place like forest restoration and landscape management.
Likewise, the Flame Act Amendments of 2015 were reintroduced by legislators earlier this year. That legislation would allow the USFS to take money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Relief Fund to fight wildfires.
So far, though, little if any action has been taken on this legislation.
It is time to take action.