In the midst of the worst drought in decades which has led to over one million acres blackened by wildfires in their state this year, the Texas House and Senate have proposed budgets that would slash the funding of the Texas Forest Service’s Wildfire and Emergency Program by more than 30%.
Here is an excerpt from an article in the Star-Telegram:
…Most of the cuts would translate into fewer grants for volunteer fire departments to buy new equipment, according to Robby DeWitt, the agency’s associate finance director.
Texas is one of the few states that relies primarily on volunteer fire departments to protect rural areas from wildfires.
DeWitt stressed that the agency would make sure the cuts don’t impact training of firefighters.
The Forest Service finds itself in a very different situation compared to 2008, when it was warning lawmakers that it was underfunded and that wildfires around the state were getting bigger and more destructive as a result. The Legislature responded by boosting the agency’s funding in 2009 by more than $15 million.
Now lawmakers are planning to cut the agency’s budget to close to its 2008 level.
That warning from three years ago came in a routine Legislative Appropriations Request that agencies file prior to each legislative session. The entire request is 102 pages but we’ve embedded the key pages below and highlighted some interesting passages regarding the agency’s request.
Yesterday, Gov. Rick Perry called on Texans to spend the next three days praying for rain to address the wildfires. We asked Perry’s office for the governor’s thoughts on the future of the Forest Service’s funding.
“We’re still working through the budget process, but the governor is committed to continuing to work with lawmakers in the House and Senate to craft a budget that prioritizes essential services, including public safety, without raising taxes,” spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said.
While it is fairly easy to see the problems with slashing the wildfire budget for the state, another issue is that many of the rural fire departments have little or no reliable funding and depend on bake sales, grants, or donations to buy fire trucks and personal protective equipment for the volunteers so that they can protect the state’s citizens. The result is fire departments and volunteer firefighters that attempt to put out fires with outdated fire apparatus and inadequate protective equipment for the firefighters. Yesterday the Texas Forest Service was begging for donations on Facebook, asking the public to donate to the state’s volunteer fire departments.
Much like the “no man’s land” incident in Washington state, many of the citizens in Texas have decided not to fund fire protection. They expect it to be provided for free. They have not established funding mechanisms for some rural fire protection districts and now they want to cut the budget for the state wildfire agency again.
The loss of homes and property from the Texas wildfires is indeed terrible. It probably would have been less severe if the people of Texas had not expected a free lunch. Of course the federal government, after a late request from Governor Rick Perry, is coming to partially bail them out with firefighters from 35 states and military air tankers.