During this past month, some progress has occurred regarding wildfire funding for the U.S. Forest Service. Congress has taken its first step to provide funding for next fiscal year while President Barack Obama is seeking more money for the current fire season.
Fiscal year 2014-15
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal year 2014-15 funding bill for the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Interior and other agencies.
Overall, the committee recommended a $5.6 billion appropriation for the Forest Service, which is $85.7 million more than the amount enacted for 2013-14 but $141.9 million less than Obama had requested.
Funding for wildland fire management and construction were increased, while funding for the National Forest System and land acquisitions were decreased.
The committee recommended funding fire suppression at a 10-year fire expenditure average. Another $470 million in fire suppression funding is provided to address projected suppression shortfalls during the 2014 fire season. The Forest Service already has forecast that this year’s funding for suppression will be short of needed resources.
The committee indicated that the administration’s proposal to use Disaster Relief funding for future wildfires was outside its jurisdiction. Until Congress changes the funding mechanism, this committee will fund suppression activities directly.
Funding for wildfire preparedness was $130 million more than the president’s request to acquire two next-generation firefighting aircraft.
The committee also recommended another $23 million for hazardous fuels reduction. The committee directed the Forest Service to implement effective treatments in frequent-fire forests that restore forest resiliency and reduce hazardous fuels. Treatments should be placed to effectively modify fire behavior and protect assets at risk, including life and property.
The committee expressed concern about the threat of invasive forest pests and directed the agency to prepare a report on its efforts to eradicate or mitigate these threats.
For every category of capital improvements and maintenance — facilities, roads trails and deferred — the committee recommended more funding than available last year or than the president requested.
Fiscal year 2013-14
On July 8, the president requested Congress to appropriate another $3.7 billion, most of which was for the border-crossing situation. However, $615 million was for wildfire funding; but no congressional action has yet been taken.
“This funding would provide the necessary expenses for wildfire suppression and rehabilitation activities this fiscal year so we can fight fires without having to resort to damaging transfers from our wildfire treatment and protection activities,” the president said in his letter to Congress. “Too often in recent years, this cycle of transfers has undermined our efforts to prepare for and reduce the severity of wildfires, which is both fiscally imprudent and self-defeating.”
The purpose of the supplemental funding is to avoid the continuing problem of using funds from other Forest Service programs, such as forestry and recreation, to fund the unplanned costs of summer firefighting.