Nearly 75 days since the start of fiscal year 2015, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation last weekend to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2015. While the politics of immigration has disrupted funding for the Homeland Security Department, other agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, now know what their current year budget will be.
The Forest Service’s total appropriation level is $5.1 billion, nearly $423 million less than the 2014 appropriation and $650 million below President Barack Obama’s request nearly a year ago in February.
Nearly all of the difference is based on how Congress will fund additional firefighting expenses. Excluding wildland fire management funding, the 2015 appropriation is $17.5 million more than fiscal year 2014 and $68.2 million less than the request for 2015.
Congress did provide funding equal to the 10-year average for firefighting suppression costs. It was the additional funding that was not included. Total fire management funding is about $2.6 billion.
The purchase of a new-generation air tanker for $65 million was included. The House and Senate report language encourages the Forest Service to build an air tanker fleet of 18 to 28 aircraft, including ones transferred from the Coast Guard. Congress also directed the Forest Service to including funding for its air tanker modernization program in fiscal year 2016 and future budget requests.
With the fire management total funding, Congress provided about $362 million for hazardous fuels management activities, which is an increase of $55.2 million more than was available in fiscal year 2014. This also includes $15 million for biomass utilization grants. The Congressional report stated, “… expected to use for the development of bioenergy and bio-based products that will expand commercial markets for low-value wood to facilitate increased removal of biomass beyond traditional fuels treatment.” The report directly urged the Forest Service to work with local forest collaborative entities where fire risk to communities can be mitigated with proactive investment in biomass utilization.
The bill also provided $2.1 million for land acquisition in the San Bernardino National Forest and another $1.3 million for land acquisition along the Pacific Crest Trail. “We continue to work on the next phase of the Fleming Ranch. There are a couple of PCT-related parcels under consideration in the San Gabriel Mountains,” said John Miller, SBNF public information officer.