The Guardian writes about budget cuts and the Whitewater-Baldy fire

Whitewater-Baldy fire, May 28, 2012
Whitewater-Baldy fire, May 28, 2012
Mt. Taylor Hot Shots burning out on the Whitewater-Baldy fire along Forest Road 141, May 28, 2012. USFS photo by Steven Meister, Mt. Taylor Hot Shots.

The Guardian is a newspaper based in the United Kingdom, but they also have a substantial presence in the United States. One of their Washington D.C. based reporters, Suzanne Goldenberg, published two articles today about wildfires in the U.S., and specifically the Whitewater-Baldy fire, which at over 216,000 acres has blasted through the record set last year by the Las Conchas fire for the largest in the recorded history of New Mexico. Ms. Goldenberg’s articles are well-researched and written, and are worth reading, in spite of one particular quote. She obviously talked with actual firefighters on the ground, as well as some folks that you will recognize that are sitting comfortably hundreds of miles away from the fire.

The first article concentrates on the declining budgets of the land management agencies that are involved with fire management. The second covers the Whitewater-Baldy fire, mega-fires, and stories from locals and firefighters, including the first firefighters to rappel into the fire.

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the first article:

Fire experts are warning that $512m in congressional budget cuts could leave communities dangerously exposed in an early and active fire season.

Such warnings have sharpened with the early onset of this year’s fire season, and the record-setting outbreak in New Mexico.

Experts fear the shortfall will leave fire crews scrambling for resources, and force government agencies to dip into other non-fire budgets to cover the gap.

“A person has to wonder. Is this going to be the new norm – frequent record-setting fires, while the number of federal firefighters and air tankers continue to shrink?” wrote Bill Gabbert, a former fire management officer in the Black Hills of South Dakota who now runs the blog wildfiretoday.com.

A strategic review in 2009 warned the government to step up its fire fighting capabilities to deal with an escalating rise in wildfires, covering up to 12m acres of terrain each year. “The current budget environment for federal and partner fire management is at best uncertain and difficult,” the review said.

It noted government agencies had already over-shot their budgets five years in a row, because of escalating wildfires.

But the economic downturn and a Congress dominated by Republicans who want to shrink the role of government make it extremely complicated to divert more funds to forest fighting.

Instead, funding for preventing and putting out wildfires has fallen by $512m, or about 15%, since 2010.

Join Ms. Goldenberg from the Guardian and myself on June 4 when we co-host a live web chat about wildfires. More information can be found HERE.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills. Google+