President Obama has released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2013. At this point it is merely a suggestion until Congress passes appropriation or spending cap bills.
The budget fully funds the 10-year average cost of wildland fire suppression operations, but there is a reduction in the funding of the treatment of hazardous fuels — by 24% in the Department of Agriculture and by 21% in the Department of Interior.
The numbers in the table below are in millions, and represent the proposed wildfire budgets for the U.S. Forest Service and the four land management agencies within the Department of Interior.
|USFS Hazardous Fuels
|USDA State & Volunteer Fire Assistance Grants
|DOI Hazardous Fuels
|DOI Rural Fire Assistance (was $7 million in 2011)
In the Department of Interior’s justification for the 21% reduction in the hazardous fuels budget, they invoked the name of a U.S. Forest Service researcher, Jack Coehn, who has studied the wildland urban interface:
The Wildland Fire Management account in DOI supports wildland fire preparedness, suppression, rehabilitation, and hazardous fuels reduction activities. When targeted properly, hazardous fuels reduction activities (e.g., removing brush and small trees in strategic locations) can reduce impacts from wildfires, including threats to public safety, suppression costs, and damage to natural and cultural resources.
DOI and the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service have agreed on several actions to reduce impacts from wildfires, such as: 1) prioritizing fuels treatments that have been identified as key components of Community Wildfire Protection Plans and are cost effective; and 2) expanding wildland fire use as a means of treating fuels.
Although funding for hazardous fuels treatments has quadrupled since 2000, the previous policy of treatingthe greatest number of acres possible has led to a patchwork of hazardous fuels treatment that has not been as focused as it could have been on reducing risks in the WUI. As suggested by Forest Service scientists, extensive wildland vegetation management does not effectively change whether or not homes in the WUI catch on fire. However, when there is a clear priority of treating acres within the WUI, hazardous fuels treatments can be more effective in reducing risk.
1,2 In 2013, the Forest Service and DOI will target fuels management activities to mitigate hazards and enhance the ability to control fires in WUI. The agencies will focus funding for hazardous fuels treatments in communities that are on track to meet Firewise standards and have identified acres to be treated in Community Wildfire Protection Plans (or the equivalent) and have made an investment in implementing local solutions to protect against wildland fire.
The Department of Agriculture explained their reduction in the U.S. Forest Service’s hazardous fuels budget, saying that “though the majority of the inexpensive locations have now been treated to reduce hazardous fuels, FS is also furthering its efforts to focus its hazardous fuels treatments in the Wildland-Urban Interface in areas that are identified in Community Wildfire Protection Plans and are highest priority.”