Wildfire funding bill reintroduced in the Senate

The legislation that would eliminate taking money from non-fire accounts to pay for the suppression of wildfires has been reintroduced by U.S. Senators John McCain (AZ), John Barrasso (WY), and Jeff Flake (AZ). The bill, called the FLAME Act Amendments of 2015, not only reduces fire borrowing, but also shortens the environmental review process for forest treatment projects and may increase timber harvesting on federal lands.

“Congress must fully fund our fire suppression needs, but to reduce wildfire costs over time we must also thin our fire-prone forests,” said Senator McCain. “There are similar proposals in Congress that support fire suppression spending, but they don’t as clearly guarantee funding for forest treatment programs, put an end to fire-borrowing, or promote the utility of private timber industry as this legislation does. We need to end the current practice of throwing billions of taxpayer dollars at wildfires year after year and begin to aggressively manage our forests.”

Rather than budgeting for wildfires using just 70 percent of a 10-year historic average of suppression expenditures as the Obama Administration proposed in its Fiscal Year 2015 budget request, this bill requires the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to budget for 100 percent of their suppression costs using the most accurate budget forecast model available (known as the “FLAME regression model”). The bill also would prohibit federal agencies from raiding non-wildfire accounts to pay for wildfires, a practice known as “fire-borrowing.”

While the Administration’s proposal would allow wildfire spending to automatically exceed statutory budget caps on disaster funding, this legislation would establish a limited process for accessing emergency funds in the event of a catastrophic wildfire, while investing aggressively in suppression and forest management programs. Finally, this bill would establish a streamlined environmental review process to expedite forest treatment projects across 7.5 million acres of federal land and promote the use of private industry under forest stewardship contracts.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and can be tracked at Congress.gov.


  • Prohibits Forest Service and the Interior Department from “fire-borrowing” from all accounts not connected to wildfire management.
  • Requires FS/DOI to use the best available budget forecast model to plan its wildfire season and fully fund its suppression operations at 100 percent. Currently, FS uses a 10-year historic average of past wildfire spending to predict its future needs, which isn’t keeping pace with the increase in size and cost of wildfires.
  • Establishes a narrowly tailored process to access emergency funds in the event of a catastrophic wildfire that exhausts suppression accounts, but also requires Appropriators to invest in hazardous fuels reduction projects and insect disease treatment projects.
  • In order to access this emergency process for catastrophic wildfires, two things must happen: (1) 100 percent of the suppression needs must be funded; and (2) a number equal to 50 percent of the suppression costs must go to hazardous fuel reduction projects like those authorized under the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) of 2003, the Tribal Forests Protection Act, and landscape scale forest restoration.
  • Incentivizes more funding to the HFRA (which is authorized at $760 million a year) to prevent future wildfires near rural communities and bring down forest suppression costs over the long term.
  • Requires Forest Service to treat 7.5 million acres of federal land designated as “Forest Management Emphasis Areas” within 15 years under an expedited environmental review process.

Bills introduced in Washington legislature to increase use of local firefighting resources

Representative Joel Kretz of Waconda, Washington has introduced several bills in the legislature that would affect wildland firefighting.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources does not agree with all proposals in every bill, but the DNR has worked with Rep. Kretz to craft a bill containing the concepts they can support, according to the Yakima Herald.

That bill is HB 2093. One of the provisions would authorize an individual to enter privately owned or publicly owned land for the purposes of attempting to extinguish a wildland fire, regardless of whether the individual owns the land. The person would also be protected from civil or criminal liability.

There are some caveats, such as, the individual would not be allowed to fight fire with fire, that is, they could not ignite burnouts or backfires. They would also have to believe that suppression measures would extinguish the fire, and they would be required to notify emergency personnel and the landowner prior to entering the land or within a reasonable time.

Another provision of the bill requires the DNR to conduct outreach to provide basic Incident Command System and wildland fire safety training to landowners in possession of firefighting capability to help ensure that any wildland fire suppression actions taken by private landowners on their own land are accomplished safely and in coordination with any related incident command structure.

The DNR would be required to cooperate with federal wildland firefighting agencies to
maximize the efficient use of local resources in close proximity to wildland fire incidents.

There will be two hearings on the legislation this week. On February 17 a public hearing is scheduled in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources at 10:00 AM. On February 19 there will be an executive session in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources at 1:30 PM.

Other pending legislation in Washington state related to wildland fire sponsored by Rep. Krertz:

  • HB 1508: Providing permissive authority for counties to assume authority over local forest fire management.
  • HB 1677: Giving preference to using the nearest available qualified firefighters upon notification of a forest fire.
  • HB 1699: Addressing legal immunity in instances of citizen-initiated wildfire control.
  • HB 1237: Providing landowners with necessary tools for the protection of their property from forest fires.
  • HB 1509: Giving priority selection to forest fire suppression resource contractors that are located geographically close to fire suppression activities.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick.


Legislation introduced in Montana to fine feds for wildfire smoke

Beaver Fire

Smoke rises from the Beaver Fire northwest of Yreka, California, August 12, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

In recent summers, Gallatin Valley residents have sometimes had to endure poor air quality from wildfire smoke, so a Bozeman legislator wants Montana to be able to fine the federal government for that.

In a Natural Resources Committee hearing this week, Rep. Tom Burnett, R-Bozeman, presented House Bill 340, which would require the Department of Environmental Quality “to fine the federal government for fires on certain federal lands that contribute to exceedance of air quality standards.”

Burnett provided the committee a graphic of the smoke from wildfires in 2012 and the readings from the 11 DEQ monitoring stations in Montana, most of which registered unhealthy air quality on various days.
“Smoke pollution compromises public health. Under this bill, the DEQ determines whether mismanaged federal lands are responsible for any part of breaching of the air standard. If they are, the federal government is corrected in the same way an industrial polluter would be,” Burnett said at the Wednesday hearing. “Federal land managers should manage the forests so it does not cause air pollution.”…


Legislation reintroduced to change the way wildfires are funded

Legislation has been reintroduced in the House of Representatives that would change the way wildfires are funded by the federal government. Even though it had broad bipartisan support last year, Congress could not be bothered to vote on the bill which would fund fires in much the same way as other natural disasters.

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson and Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader reintroduced the legislation which would make common sense changes to the federal wildfire budget.  H.R. 167, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which was cosponsored by nearly 150 Members of Congress and supported by a broad coalition of over 300 organizations in the 113th Congress, aims to make sure the way we budget for wildfire suppression activities makes sense by ending the destructive cycle of fire borrowing and treating catastrophic wildfires like other natural disasters.

“There are a number of steps that we need to take to address forest health and management issues, but fixing the wildfire suppression budget must be the first one,” said Simpson.  “Until we address this issue, anything we do to increase needed management activities in the forests, like hazardous fuels removal, timber harvest, conservation, or trail maintenance, will continue to be lost in fire transfers.  Fixing the wildfire budget is the critical first step in making our forests healthier and, ultimately, reducing the cost of wildfires in the future.”

“Treating catastrophic wildfires like other natural disasters – such as hurricanes and tornadoes – means land management agencies can adequately prepare for the future without jeopardizing their annual funding,” said Congressman Schrader. “ Each year, critical forestry programs face unnecessary budget cuts because they are forced to transfer funds from successful forest management practices to pay for wildfire suppression.  Freeing up those financial resources to enhance catastrophic fire prevention programs will ultimately reduce costs on the federal government and help us better prevent wildfires in the future.”

H.R. 167 would budget for catastrophic wildfires in the same way as other natural disasters, like floods and hurricanes.  Under the bill, routine wildland firefighting costs, which make up about 70% of the cost of wildfire suppression, would be funded through the normal budgeting and appropriations process.  The true emergency fire events, which represent about 1% of wildland fires but make up 30% of costs, would be treated like similar major natural disasters and funded under existing disaster programs.


Bill approved by House includes funding for wildland fire

Dollar Sign(Originally published December 12, 2014; updated December 13, 2014)

On December 11 the House of Representatives passed a consolidated federal appropriations bill that if also passed by the Senate and signed by the President in its present form would fund most of the government for the remainder of this fiscal year that ends September 30, 2015.

The bill provides $3.53 billion for Interior Department and Forest Service wildland fire management activities, which is $223 million above the FY 2014 funding amount, meeting the 10‐year average.

It includes $65 million for “acquiring aircraft for the next-generation airtanker fleet” which “shall be suitable for contractor operation”. We have a call in to the Forest Service to find out what this is for exactly. It appears to be over and above what is normally appropriated for the contracting of air tankers, and may have something to do with management and retrofitting of the C-130Hs the agency is in the process of receiving from the Coast Guard. But those aircraft are not expected to be received until FY 2018. We would be surprised if the USFS plans to purchase additional air tankers. If our call to the USFS is returned, we will post an update here.

(UPDATE at 9:12 a.m. MST, December 13, 2014: Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson with the USFS, told us that their budget staff will not disclose how that $65 million will be spent until after Congress and the President pass and sign the bill.)

(UPDATE December 16, 2014: An article at Fire Aviation explores in much more detail how the Forest Service may spend the $65 million allocated for air tankers.)

Below are excerpts from the bill; the full text of which can be accessed here.

Forest Service
Page 745
For necessary expenses for forest fire presuppression
activities on National Forest System lands, for emergency
fire suppression on or adjacent to such lands or other
lands under fire protection agreement, hazardous fuels
management on or adjacent to such lands, emergency re-
habilitation of burned-over National Forest System lands
and water, and for State and volunteer fire assistance,
$2,333,298,000, to remain available until expended: …
Page 746
…Provided further, That of the
funds provided, $361,749,000 is for hazardous fuels man-
agement activities, $19,795,000 is for research activities
and to make competitive research grants pursuant to the
Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Research
Act, (16 U.S.C. 1641 et seq.), $78,000,000 is for State
fire assistance, and $13,000,000 is for volunteer fire as-
sistance under section 10 of the Cooperative Forestry As-
sistance Act of 1978 (16 U.S.C. 2106): …
Page 747
…Provided further, That, of the funds provided, $65,000,000
shall be available for the purpose of acquiring aircraft for
the next-generation airtanker fleet to enhance firefighting
mobility, effectiveness, efficiency, and safety, and such air-
craft shall be suitable for contractor operation over the
terrain and forested-ecosystems characteristic of National
forest System lands, as determined by the Chief of the
Forest Service:
Page 749
For necessary expenses for large fire suppression
operations of the Department of Agriculture and as a reserve
fund for suppression and Federal emergency response
activities, $303,060,000, to remain available until expended:
Provided, That such amounts are only available for trans-
fer to the ‘‘Wildland Fire Management’’ account following
a declaration by the Secretary in accordance with section
502 of the FLAME Act of 2009 (43 U.S.C. 1748a)…

Department of the Interior
Page 706-707
For necessary expenses for fire preparedness, fire
suppression operations, fire science and research, emer-
gency rehabilitation, hazardous fuels management activi-
ties, and rural fire assistance by the Department of the
Interior, $804,779,000, to remain available until
expended, of which not to exceed $6,127,000 shall be for
the renovation or construction of fire facilities: Provided,
That such funds are also available for repayment of
advances to other appropriation accounts from which funds
were previously transferred for such purposes: Provided
further, That of the funds provided $164,000,000 is for
hazardous fuels management activities, of which
$10,000,000 is for resilient landscapes activities: Provided
further, That of the funds provided $18,035,000 is for
burned area rehabilitation:..
Page 710
For necessary expenses for large fire suppression
operations of the Department of the Interior and as a
reserve fund for suppression and Federal emergency
response activities, $92,000,000, to remain available until
expended: Provided, That such amounts are only available
for transfer to the ‘‘Wildland Fire Management’’ account
following a declaration by the Secretary in accordance
with section 502 of the FLAME Act of 2009 (43 U.S.C.


Bill introduced that would strip firearms from some federal agencies

Dianna McKinley

Dianna McKinley and her K9 partner Sabre, Flathead National Forest. USFS photo. (More information about an award earned by Ms. McKinley.)

A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives that would allow firearms to be owned by only a few non-military agencies. H.R.4934, the Regulatory Agency Demilitarization Act, would prohibit federal agencies from purchasing or using a firearm. The only exemptions from the act would be the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security, the military departments, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Capitol Police, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Most, if not all, of the federal land management agencies have law enforcement officers and special agents that have access to weapons.

No action has been taken on the bill since it was introduced on June 23, 2014, so it has a very long road ahead before it becomes law. And the do-nothing Congress rarely passes legislation, so don’t hold your breath on this being voted on in the House and Senate any time soon. But it does have 31 cosponsors after being introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart from Utah.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris.