Federal wildfire funding has been cut 15% since 2010

Average size wildfires, 1961-2011
Average size wildfires, 1961-2011
Average size of wildfires, 1961-2011. Source: NIFC and Wildfire Today (click to enlarge)

The media frequently reports on wildfire-related events that are exciting, such as big flames, hundreds of burned homes, and thousands of evacuated residents. but an under-reported aspect of wildfire management is the effects of reductions in funding. Every time Congress passes and the President signs a bill that reduces funding for fire suppression, fuel management, and fire prevention, there are proportional effects that ripple throughout the federal land management agencies. It appears that the chickens have come home to roost as we have fewer federal wildland firefighters, fewer staffed engines, and an air tanker fleet that has been reduced from 44 in 2002 to the 9 exclusive use large air tankers that are currently working under contract.

As we lose the ability to aggressively attack new fires with overwhelming force, more fires become mega-expensive conflagrations that cost tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to attempt to put out. A relatively small upfront expense for ground and air resources arriving within the first 30 minutes can be very cost effective when the fire is put out and everyone one goes back to the fire station to prepare for the next one.

I don’t want to hear any more congressmen complain about the lack of federal resources, or show up in a constituent’s home to listen to them complain about how the federal government fights fire, without them also committing to fixing the funding problem. They control the purse strings.

Wildfire budgets cut by 15% since 2010

A reporter for The Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg, wrote a very interesting article about the declining firefighting budgets. The Guardian, of course, is a UK-based newspaper. Sometimes we need a fresh perspective of something that has been right in front of us. We mentioned Ms. Goldenberg’s article on June 1, but this under-reported story bears repeating. Here is an excerpt:

A strategic review in 2009 warned the government to step up its fire fighting capabilities to deal with an escalating rise in wildfires, covering up to 12m acres of terrain each year. “The current budget environment for federal and partner fire management is at best uncertain and difficult,” the review said.

It noted government agencies had already over-shot their budgets five years in a row, because of escalating wildfires.

But the economic downturn and a Congress dominated by Republicans who want to shrink the role of government make it extremely complicated to divert more funds to forest fighting.

Instead, funding for preventing and putting out wildfires has fallen by $512m, or about 15%, since 2010.

Campaigners say that leaves the federal government agencies responsible for preventing and putting out wildfires under-funded – especially given projections suggesting a rise in wildfires over the next 20 years.

They also worry the government agencies responsible for fire protection are putting capital projects on hold – such as updating its fleet of air tankers.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

4 thoughts on “Federal wildfire funding has been cut 15% since 2010”

  1. This info from the USFS national web site covering their budget.

    FY 2012
    46% cut in Suppression [approx $458M]
    36% cut in State Fire Assistance [approx $25.6M]
    29% cut in Volunteer Fire Assistance [approx $2.6M]

    FY 2013
    + $78M for Suppression , helps pay for additional BaE-146’s under contract. However, considering the $458M cut of FY 2012, -$458M +$75M doesn’t come close to making up the FY 2012 cut or fixing the air tanker program.
    another 15% cut in State Fire Assistance [$13.3M]
    another 10% cut in Volunteer Fire Assistance [$1.3M]

    So, it isn’t a %15 cut since 2010, it is a very much larger cut and it isn’t getting better.

  2. It is best to look at the bottom dollar… otherwise it is easy to get lost in the “shell game”.

    Simple math shows that SUPPRESSION (WFSU and FLAME ACT appropriations) have gone up.

    Preparedness (WFPR) and other funding (fuels, grants, facilities, etc) have dropped like a rock.

    Bottom line… each year… $$$ are getting less and folks WONDER why fires are getting bigger?

    It isn’t rocket science.

  3. Democrats have controlled the purse stings for at least the last 2 years of the G.W Bush years and had control of both the house and the senate for the first two years of obama’s reign and currently the democrats control the senate..

    Maybe Harry Reid should think about fire fighting rather than cowboy poetry when he’s grabbing all the peoples $$$$

    I believe in a smaller government, less spending on all the CRAP! and being fiscal responsible and spending the tax dollars in necessary places such as firefighting budgets. but let’s face it most of the money is going to places where it shouldn’t be going in the first place (deep pockets) on both sides of the isle. Time to reform
    both parties is now.

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