On Tuesday, President Barack Obama released his fiscal year 2015 (starting Oct. 1, 2014) federal budget proposal. Beginning next year, the President plans to change the ways the federal government funds its costs of fighting wildfires. The proposal provides certainty, safeguards and effectiveness for paying these annual costs, which are in the billions of dollars.
“… this budget advances new approaches to address the growing cost and damage from wildfires,” said the president in his budget message.
In meetings last week with the National Governors Association, Obama telegraphed his intentions. “In the budget that I’ll send to Congress next week, I’m going to propose fundamentally reforming the way federal government funds wildfire suppression and prevention to make it more stable and secure, and this is an idea that’s supported by both Democrats and Republicans.”
Currently, during a fire season, if the U.S. Forest Service or other land management agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, deplete their fire suppression budget, they must use funds from other programs, such as recreation or resources. In the following fiscal year, Congress appropriates more money to replace the borrowed amounts.
But this proposal, which has been offered in various forms as legislation, would fund suppression costs for large and severe fires in the same manner as the federal government funds emergency activities for natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes.
“… for abnormally active fire seasons, [these fires would be treated] as extraordinary costs that would be funded outside the discretionary budget caps much like we fund response to other natural disasters,” said Presidential Press Secretary Jay Carney.
The Tuesday White House statement reads, “This new approach for funding suppression of catastrophic fires better safeguards non-suppres-sion programs from transfers that have dimin-ished their effectiveness in addressing threats to communities and landscapes.”
Supporting the proposal was Robert Bonnie, USDA under secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment, who said, “The president’s proposal is an important step toward solving a recurring problem in the Forest Service budget. In many recent years, because of severe fire seasons, the Forest Service has run through its fire suppression budget and has had to ‘borrow’ funds from other budget areas, most notably funds used to restore forest health. This has affected USDA’s ability to manage forests in a way that could reduce the incidence of wildfires in the future.”