We are getting a little more information about the effects of the sequestration budget cuts within the federal agencies that have wildland fire responsibilities. The cuts went into effect on Friday, March 1, when President Obama signed an Executive Order, but most of the details have not yet trickled down to the agencies. They are still in a planning mode, figuring out exactly how the cuts will be implemented.
Here a few more things we have learned since our last update about effects in the Department of Interior on March 4 (which included a letter from the Secretary of Interior) and a broader look on March 1:
National Park Service
The NPS has not received the actual numbers yet, according to Roberta D’Amico their Branch Chief for Communication and Education in the Division of Fire and Aviation Management, but they expect a five percent reduction in the wildland fire budget. This cut comes at the mid point of the fiscal year, which means they have six months left to reduce the expenditures by five percent for the entire year’s budget.
A primary goal of the NPS during this budget crunch, Ms. D’Amico said, is to avoid furloughing any permanent employees. However they expect to hire fewer seasonal firefighters, and the ones that do get hired will most likely not work as many pay periods as they have in past fire seasons. Large contracts that have not yet started are being suspended at least temporarily, and travel, which had already been reduced substantially is being cut back even more.
Funding for NPS prescribed fire and other fuel management projects will be less than last year.
The NPS expects that they can still maintain fire readiness and provide fire suppression capability at a safe level.
The video below features the Director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis, elaborating on the effects of the budget cuts.
Federal Emergency Management Agency
FEMA is also affected by a five percent reduction in funding levels, which will result in a reduction to FEMA’s State and Local grant funding. The FIRE and SAFER grant programs to local fire departments will be cut by a total of $104 million.