Earlier this month, President Barack Obama proposed his final federal budget, recommending total federal expenditures of more than $4.1 trillion, and requiring a deficit of $500 billion. This is for fiscal year 2017, which begins Oct. 1, 2016.
Of that amount, he is requesting $4.9 billion for the U.S. Forest Service. While the president’s budget request is nearly $780 million less than what Congress appropriated for fiscal 2016, the difference is the reserve funding the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act authorizes for wildfire suppression.
Otherwise, the USFS budget increases about $35 million, which includes a $65-million increase for wildland fire management, partially offset with a $20 million reduction for capital improvements.
The FLAME Act created a mechanism to supplement funding for wildfire expenses. But these costs have continued to grow. Congress often has not appropriated sufficient funding and the USFS, consequently, has had to take money from other programs to pay these costs.
In 2015, wildfire suppression costs were more than 50 percent of the total USFS budget compared to 16 percent of the total in 1995.
For several years, the administration has recommended that Congress adopt legislation to handle these added costs for wildland fires, similar to federal response to other natural disasters such as hurricanes, flooding and earthquakes.
The 2017 budget proposal again recommends this course, which is why a FLAME funding level of $823 million was eliminated. The USFS budget request is based on providing 70 percent of the 10-year-average wildfire suppression cost, which is the reason the budget for suppression increased by $62 million, to $873 million.
Any more fire suppression costs would be available through natural-disaster funding, with a cap of $865 million.
Preparedness costs are another $1.1 billion. Separately, the president has recommended $384 million for hazardous fuels projects, which is $9 million more than enacted for 2016.
The $20-million reduction in capital improvement funds is from the roads program, for which $150 million is being requested for 2017.
The USFS law enforcement program request is $132 million, an increase of $5 million more than approved for 2016.