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:
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:
Two bills related to wildland fire will be evaluated in a Congressional hearing before the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Thursday, April 11 at 10:00 a.m.
The first one is the “Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act”, H.R. 818 (Tipton):
To address the bark beetle epidemic, drought, deteriorating forest health conditions, and high risk of wildfires on National Forest System land and land under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management in the United States by expanding authorities established in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 to provide emergency measures for high-risk areas identified by such States, to make permanent Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management authority to conduct good-neighbor cooperation with States to reduce wildfire risks, and for other purposes.
This bill would give the Governor of a state the power to conduct “emergency hazardous fuels reduction projects” in areas on National Forests that the Governor has designated as a “high-risk area” as a result of bark beetle epidemic, drought, or “the future risk of insect infestations or disease outbreaks”. This could occur with or without the approval of the federal government. The bill would also shorten the environmental review process for these projects.
The second bill is the “Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013”, H.R. 1345 (Gosar):
To address the forest health, public safety, and wildlife habitat threat presented by the risk of wildfire, including catastrophic wildfire, on National Forest System lands and public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management by requiring the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior to expedite forest management projects relating to hazardous fuels reduction, forest health, and economic development, and for other purposes. “Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013″
This bill uses wildfire prevention as an excuse to increase livestock grazing and timber harvest projects on federal land. Like the previous bill, it also shortens the environmental review process for these projects.
New Mexico will hire and train 40 military veterans to become wildland firefighters, and the Governor recently signed 3 pieces of fire-related legislation. Below is an excerpt from a news release from the Governor’s office:
April 1, 2013
ALBUQUERQUE – Governor Susana Martinez today signed into law three bills supporting New Mexico firefighters.
“While the number of human-caused wildfires was down last year, we can’t let our guard down,” said Governor Martinez. “Across New Mexico, we have seen ongoing drought and another dry winter. Conditions are in place for a potentially difficult fire season and I urge all New Mexicans to make themselves responsible for preventing wildfires.”
In 2012, New Mexico experienced its largest wildfire in recorded history, the Whitewater-Baldy Complex, and the state’s most destructive fire, the Little Bear, which burned more than 250 structures near Ruidoso. For this reason, local, state, federal and tribal interagency partners continue to stress wildfire preparedness and prevention.
At today’s news conference at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, Governor Martinez also joined a half dozen New Mexico military veterans to announce a new pilot program that will hire and train 40 military veterans as wildland firefighters. These veterans will be placed on four fire crews that will be available for assignment on wildfires statewide. The new program is a collaborative effort between New Mexico State Forestry, the Department of Veteran’s Services, and the New Mexico Workforce Connection.
The governor also signed three pieces of legislation that will support New Mexico’s firefighters and help protect communities:
- HB 275, increasing volunteer firefighter retirement benefits to $250 per month from the current amount of $200 per month for individuals over the age of 55 with 25 or more years of experience. Benefits increase from $100 per month to $125 per month for individuals over the age of 55 with between 10 and 25 years of experience.
- HB 615, allowing volunteer firefighters be paid a stipend by a public agency that still allows them to maintain volunteer status.
- SB 431, which gives counties the authority to contract with individuals as well as municipalities for firefighting services.
The Governor of Utah has signed legislation, S.B. 120, that will allow the state forester to restrict target shooting during periods of enhanced wildfire danger.
When first introduced by state Senator Margaret Dayton it was temporarily withdrawn after the bill received criticism from some, including Utah Shooting Sports Council Chairman Clark Aposhian who was quoted as saying:
If it restricts gun owners from going there, then it should also restrict bird watchers. It has to be closed to everybody.
The legislation does not close areas to the public. It allows the state forester to “restrict or prohibit target shooting in areas where hazardous conditions exist”.
According to Utah State Forester Dick Buehler, of the 1,528 fires in the state in 2012, 33 were caused by target shooting which cost over $16 million to suppress. In October, 2012 when we wrote about the increasing number of fires started by target shooters using exploding targets, we found 10 fires started by these devices in Utah over a 5-month period last year. One of them burned over 5,500 acres.
The legislature in Oregon is considering a bill, HB 3199, that would prohibit the use of sky lanterns (or fire balloons), exploding targets, and tracer ammunition on land within the boundaries of a forest protection district.
Single engine air tanker #466 at Hot Springs, SD, March 14, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert
UPDATE at 5:34 p.m. MT, April 5, 2013:
State Senator Jerry Johnson said the Governor is in favor of the bill.
(Originally published on March 25, 2013)
The Nebraska legislature voted 36 to 0 on Monday to advance a bill to the second round of debate that would appropriate $1.7 million to improve the response to wildfires. LB634 directs that contracted single engine air tankers be stationed at Valentine and Chadron, one at each location, during the fire season. It would also provide for the thinning of forests, make more wildfire training available to volunteer firefighters, and develop a Type 3 incident management team.
The air tankers would be available through mutual aid agreements for fires that occur across the states lines in South Dakota, Colorado, and Wyoming.
Before the vote on Monday the bill was amended, adding the following:
Since an emergency exists, this act takes effect when passed and approved according to law.
At 5 a.m. on Saturday the U.S. Senate passed a budget bill for the first time in four years. It would provide funding for the federal government including the wildland fire programs of the five major land management agencies in fiscal year 2014, which begins October 1, 2013.
The bill included an amendment offered by Colorado Senator Mark Udall which increased the funding for wildland fire programs, providing $100 million more than originally specified in the bill. In a press release issued on March 21 the Senator said the amendment would:
…increase the funding availability for fighting wildfires and modernizing the air tanker fleet. … Our amendment would ensure that firefighting resources are given top priority. This will help give Federal land agencies the tools they need to save lives, homes, and property across the country.
Here is the official summary of the amendment:
Udall (CO) amendment to provide additional suppression resources to the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior for the protection of communities, homes, water supplies, utility infrastructure, and natural resources from catastrophic wildfires. (#239) Agreed to in Senate by Voice Vote.
The Senate version of the bill passed by one vote, 50 to 49, but it will face a tough test in the Republican dominated House of Representatives where it could be modified. Or if the House never passes any version of an appropriations bill for next fiscal year, the federal government would be back to a continuing resolution with little or no change to funding levels for the land management agencies.
Thanks go out to Tim.