Magazine article American Forests

Fire Funding Fix

Magazine article American Forests

Fire Funding Fix

Article excerpt

THIS FIRE SEASON has only amplified the need for Congress to pass a comprehensive wildfire suppression funding fix, so that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Department of Interior (DOI) can not only bank on the funds needed to fight fires, but also implement forest restoration practices that help reduce the risks of these extreme fires.

Congress allocates funding to the USFS and DOI in each appropriations cycle through the "rolling 10-year average" model. The costs of each year's fire suppression efforts are calculated, and the average of the last 10 is then allocated. Averages usually mean that some years will be above average and some years will be below; however, that is no longer the case when it comes to the costs of fighting fires. The USFS and DOI have run short on fire-fighting funds 13 years since 2002. And, each year the 10-year average increases by hundreds of millions of dollars.

As federal budgets remain flat or decrease and the cost of suppression increases, the portion of money available to do the forest restoration, wildlife management, etc. decreases, including funding actions to help prevent fires and reduce the probability of intense fires--like hazardous fuels reduction. In 1995, fire management accounted for 16 percent of the U.S. Forest Service's budget. Today, it is more than half, and the agency predicts it will be two-thirds by 2021.

Not only do the rising costs of fire suppression eat up more and more of the Forest Service's budget, when appropriated funds are not enough, the agency has to "borrow" funds from other program areas to cover the costs. …

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