The federal 2013-14 fiscal year begins Oct. 1, about four weeks from now, and the U.S. Congress has yet to enact an appropriations bill to fund the U.S. Forest Service operations or other federal agencies.
However, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have reported bills. As expected, the House and Senate strategies differ.
The House reduced the overall funding authority in the Interior Appropriations bill nearly $4 billion from the current 2012-13 spending level, but increased funding for fighting wildfires by nearly $1.5 billion.
The House report states, “The committee is deeply concerned about the impact of wildfire on the budget of the Forest Service and other federal land management agencies. Wildfire-related costs now make up the majority of the Forest Service’s budget, leaving the agency with inadequate funding to manage national forests and prevent future catastrophic wildfires.”
The House subcommittee added $600 million for wildfire suppression. The total amount, $1.28 billion, would meet the 10-year average expenditure for wildfire emergency funding. Also, the subcommittee recommended another $118 million for hazardous fuel reduction, which restores the president’s recommended reduction.
The subcommittee also added $130 million to begin rebuilding the Forest Service’s large air tanker resources.
To fund these increases, the House subcommittee recommended reducing other Forest Service programs by about $350 million. These reductions were applied to such programs as research, land acquisition and operational activities other than grazing management, which was increased by $25 million.
The Senate Appropriations Committee provided $675 million for emergency wildfire costs. It was not convinced that a 10-year average was a useful basis and stated, “The 10-year average of actual suppression costs is clearly inadequate for purposes of determining the proper level of funding … before the submission of the fiscal year 2015 budget request, the administration shall provide new options to the Congress for estimating suppression costs, which should include options to budget for portions of wildfire response as disaster or emergency spending.”
Both committees left funding for the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement account, a reserve account, at the current $315-million level.
The committee generally supported the president’s request for Forest Service funding. However, it did recommend an increase of $123.6 million for wildland fire management. Hazardous fuels were increased $105 million and state fire assistance received a boost of $16 million for a $85 million total.
With respect to the new aircraft, the Senate was cautious. Rather than adding funds to this fiscal year, the subcommittee requested “both a long-term plan, to meet its goal of 18 to 28 next-generation aircraft, and a short-term plan for the next five years, which provides for sufficient resources in the face of more active fire seasons, and reduce the reliance on more expensive aviation options when long-term contracted aircraft are unavailable.”