Below are excerpts from an article in the August 28 edition of the Washington Post, written by Peter Goldmark, the Washington state commissioner of public lands.
Congress should do more to protect the country from wildfires
…By failing to provide an emergency funding source for federal firefighting efforts, Congress has forced the U.S. Forest Service to pay for its firefighting efforts by cannibalizing programs that promote healthy forests and wildfire prevention. A recent report from the agency reveals that its firefighting workforce has more than doubled since 1998 while the number of its land managers has shrunk by 35 percent.
Despite the scale of disasters such as the Carlton Complex, Congress still pays for federal wildland firefighting as though it were lawn mowing or picnic-table painting or any other routine administrative task. Several bipartisan legislative proposals would instead allow the Forest Service to tap into the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster fund to fight wildfires, as the federal government does when responding to other natural disasters. Faced with yet another opportunity to fix this situation before adjourning for a five-week recess, Congress failed to act.
According to Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group, twice as many acres burn and three times as many structures are destroyed during each wildlife season as in 1990, and the season now lasts two months longer.
Congress should provide emergency funding to fight wildfires while greatly increasing the budget for stewardship of America’s shamefully neglected national forests. We must fix this broken model before more people, communities and wildlife suffer needless harm.