President recommends reduced budgets for wildland fire

President FY2014 budget proposed wildland fire

The President is recommending reduced budgets next fiscal year for the federal land management agencies that have wildland fire responsibilities. In his budget released on Wednesday President Obama desires to slash by 41 percent the funds allocated for the five agencies for reducing hazardous fuels, and the preparedness and suppression budget would be cut by 8 percent. The amount set aside for the FLAME Wildfire Suppression Reserve Fund would remain about the same.

The four Department of Interior Agencies would see a reduction of 512 FTEs (full time equivalent employees) to 3,445, down from 3,957 in FY 2012. Those four agencies are the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Below, we assembled some of the numbers from documents released by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture:

President's proposed FY-2014 budget for wildland fire

It should be noted that the chances of this proposal being enacted exactly as recommended are somewhere between slim and none. Congress has not passed a federal budget in four years, and even if they did get one signed for Fiscal Year 2014 which begins in October, 2013, it would no doubt be different from what the President desires, after it makes its way through the dysfunctional House and Senate chambers.

On March 23 the Senate passed another version of a budget for Fiscal Year 2014.

Here are a couple of excerpts from information supplied by the two Departments about the President’s proposed budget. First, Interior, about Hazardous Fuels:

The 2014 President’s budget reduces funding for the Hazardous Fuels Reduction program to $95.9 million. This is a net program reduction of $88.9 million from the 2012 enacted level. The 2014 program presents an opportunity to re-evaluate and recalibrate the focus of HFR to align and support the direction in the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and the FederalWildland FireManagement Policy. Affirming a commitment to the intergovernmental goals of the Cohesive Strategy, HFR program activities will be planned and implemented to mitigate increasing risks posed by wildfire. A risk-based prioritization process is used to ensure activities are implemented in the areas at greatest risk from wildfire.

And Agriculture, about air tankers:

Our budget request for FY 2014, taking the Suppression and FLAME line items together, fully covers the average annual amount spent on suppression in the preceding 10 years. Airtankers are a critical part of an appropriate response to wildfire, but the fleet of large airtankers that the agency uses is old, with an average age of more than 50 years. The cost of maintaining them is growing as are the risks associated with using them. As such, the Forest Service is implementing a Large Airtanker Modernization Strategy to replace our aging fleet with next-generation airtankers. Our FY 2014 budget request includes an increase of $50 million to pay for the increased costs of modernizing the firefighting airtanker fleet. This is in addition to the $24 million requested in the FY 2013 budget for a total of $74 million proposed over the last two years to further enhance the agency’s capacity to fight wildland fire. We believe that large airtankers are an important part of an appropriate mix of aviation assets, and are critical for a continued high rate of initial attack success given fuel accumulation, drought, climate change, and growth in housing developments. This approach ensures agency capability to protect life, property, and natural resources, while assuring an appropriate, risk-informed, and effective response to wildfires that is consistent with land and natural resource management objectives.


Author: Bill Gabbert

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

10 thoughts on “President recommends reduced budgets for wildland fire”

  1. bottom line if you cut thru all the boiler plate and B.S.

    President recommends a cut of $88.9 M for hazardous fuels reduction.

    Secretary of Agriculture is requesting funding for an “average fire year” in spite of all forecasts and drought indexes.

    1. I’m not sure what “boiler plate and B.S.” you’re referring to, but the $89 million cut is just for the four DOI agencies’ hazardous fuels budgets. The USFS would see a reduction of $116 million for hazardous fuels.

      1. Bill,

        Thanks for the correction, the big picture is worse, a $204.9M cut.

        Any time the government starts using words like “opportunity to re-evaluate and recalibrate”, and “risk-based prioritization” you know the text is cover [boiler plate] for a significant mark or budget reduction. When they use 10 year or more running averages to support budget requests, that is where the B.S. creeps in. Its like driving down the road by looking in the rearview mirror.


  2. If any of these morons think we need less money for equipment and staff Id like to see them get their lazy @ss out of their nice cushy chairs and come on out to the line with us and see how long they lasted. They might finally wake up that we don’t need cuts in fire we need more.

    1. Jim – a few thoughts about your post concerning budget cutbacks in the Fire Program: first, you seldom make things better when you call folks “morons” or tell them to get off their “lazy a**” just because they have differences in opinion with you about policy or budget issues. Yeah, there are a few “morons” in the Administration and Congress (and some would argue even in the Supreme Court), but most are folks just pushing ideas that may be different than you and I would place as a high priority. Also, if you’ve looked at the US economic situation, you’ll see that there are lots of folks outside the world of wildland fire that also think that THEIR issues are the highest priority for Federal spending: better hiways, longer airport runways, a fence along the US-Mexico border, fancy new jet fighters at $130 million each, universal health care for all Americans, tax breaks for oil companies, and on and on and on!

      We’re all under the cost-savings gun right now, and everyone, including Federal fire forces, are going to experience cutbacks: I’ve seen them in the 1970s-1980s-1990s, and we’re not done in the 21st Century either. So, do what you can, cut out unnecessary expenses, be smarter, but most importantly, operate safely no matter how many acres burn or houses are destroyed: the one thing that we can do is base all of our actions on sound fire safety principles, and live to fight another day.

  3. News like this is really starting to disillusion me from continuing to pursue a career in wildfire rather than just dabble in it as I do now. Budget cuts are just adding more uncertainty for workers in an already highly variable and underpaid profession.

  4. It’s interesting that he would propose this considering he was the one that pushed for getting the seasonal firefighters health insurance, and it passed I believe. It is unfortunate that most people outside the realm of fire have no idea what all goes into fighting wildfires. A lot of times fighting fire starts before there’s an actual wildfire (such as fuel reduction, prescribed fires, etc). These big wigs really don’t get the difference between low intensity and high intensity fires. I just hope none of Congress’s families end up losing land, homes, or loved ones in a fire over this…

  5. When Congress won’t give the agencies the money they need to do the job, it is the function of the senior leadership in the executive branch to reallocate what money there is. Don’t blame President Obama for doing the best he can with inadequate resources. Call your Congressional representatives and Senators and insist on them doing their job.

  6. Fires have always been put out by hard manual labor, this will never change. An inordinate amount of people in the business think you need the shiniest new engine or the most outrageous crew Buggies to put out fires…this is incorrect. Save for a modest Air Tanker fleet all you REALLY need are unyielding and hard working individuals with hand tools and a superior state of mind. I will operate out of a tool shed and 4 ramshackled pickup trucks if I have to.

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