Before recessing for the holidays, the U.S. Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30, 2016).
This includes $5.6 billion for the U.S. Forest Service, almost $600 million more than enacted for 2014-15, but $116 million less than President Barack Obama requested in January. Most of the additional funding is for wildfire suppression.
Funding for wildland fire operations, both preparedness and suppression operations, totals $1.9 billion, which is greater than the president’s request enacted last year. Suppression funding totals $1.6 billion — $811 million appropriated and $823 million from the special wildfire reserve account. This total is $500 million greater than the 10-year average cost for wildfire suppression. Total wildfire funding, including the special funding, is $3.2 billion.
However, Thomas Vilsack, secretary of agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, wrote a letter to congressional committees (see accompanying story) expressing his disappointment that the omnibus appropriations bill did not include language modifying the funding mechanism for fighting wildfires.
Within the wildfire appropriation was $375 million for hazardous fuel reduction, which is also an increase. This includes $15 million for biomass utilization grants.
Funding for construction and maintenance of facilities and trails was approved at the same level as enacted last year ($149 million). The committees added $4 million for road maintenance and construction.
While land acquisition was funded at $44.7 million, none of the specific projects were on the Hill, although $200,000 was provided for acquiring land along the Pacific Crest Trail in California.
In their report, the House and Senate Appropriation committees directed the Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management to work with state and local governments in drought-stricken regions to help with promptly removing hazardous trees on these lands and to prioritize funding to reduce wildfire threat.
Language was also directed at the Forest Service to increase its efforts against illegal marijuana cultivation on Forest Service lands.
The bill also included $135 million for the National Park Service’s Centennial Initiative. Congress established the National Park Service on Aug. 25, 1916.
In January 2015, 2016 Tournament of Roses President Mike Matthiessen announced the theme of 2016 parade would be “Find Your Adventure.” The “Find Your Adventure” theme is a nod to “Find Your Park,” a two-year, public engagement campaign of the National Park Service and National Park Foundation.
Local Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz voted for the government funding bill, as well as the tax-breaks bill with which it is paired.
If we have no fires next year, the USFS will still spend all of its fire budget