The Nature Conservancy and other organizations are supporting a bill that has been introduced in Congress that should mitigate the funding problems caused when the costs of suppressing wildfires exceed the budgets of the federal land management agencies. Below is a statement issued by the groups:
A broad coalition of conservation, timber, tribal, recreation, sportsmen and employer groups praised Representatives Simpson (R-ID) and Schrader (D-OR) for introducing the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2014 (H.R. 3992) that would create an emergency funding process for fire response. This funding structure is similar to existing federal funding mechanisms for response to other natural disasters, and would prevent “borrowing” from other USDA Forest Service (USFS) and Department of the Interior (DOI) programs. Since 2000 these agencies have run out of money to fight emergency fires eight times.
This bill ensures funding for both wildfire first responders and for land managers who care for public forests and streams. It is the House companion of the Senate bill, S. 1875, which was introduced at the end of 2013 by Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Crapo (R-ID) and continues to gain bipartisan co-sponsorship.
When the USFS and DOI wildfire suppression expenses exceed 70% of the 10-year average, this Bill provides funding from “off budget” sources in a structure similar to how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) pays for other natural disaster responses. This would significantly minimize the need to transfer funds from non-suppression accounts when suppression funds are depleted. For years, the practice of transferring high suppression costs has negatively impacted agencies’ ability to implement forest management activities.
This additional funding would provide outside the normal discretionary appropriations process, and could potentially make these “savings” available for forest treatments that help to reduce fire risk and costs, such as Hazardous Fuels removal.
As this was written, the bill has been introduced in the House and referred to two subcommittees, Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, and Conservation, Energy, and Forestry.
The progress of the bill can be tracked at OpenCongress.org.
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Matt