Anticipating a budget shortfall, the U.S. Forest Service has begun transferring money from its various branches to fuel its dwindling fire suppression fund.
This summer, the agency announced that for the first time in its 110-year history, it will spend more than 50 percent of its budget on fire suppression, a figure that has shot up from around 16 percent in the mid-1990s.
The first withdrawals from programs were set to begin this week, according to an internal memo sent to Forest Service employees from Chief Tom Tidwell. The memo, sent on Aug. 25, said that the agency has only $174 million left in its budget for fighting wildfires, of $1.01 billion that was set aside.
The Forest Service will transfer the funds in two increments, the first of $250 million this week and the second of $200 million at a later date.
“The Washington Office budget staff will work directly with your budget staffs to collect information on significant impacts these transfers will have on your units,” Tidwell said in the letter.
Historically, fire prevention programs have suffered due to the fire transfer, also known as fire borrowing. In 2014, the Forest Service released a state-by-state study showing the impacts of the transfer on various land management projects throughout the country.
“The multitude of benefits that forests provide to the public—including clean air and water, recreation, forest products, and jobs—are at risk because of the broken federal wildfire funding system,” said Florida State Forester Jim Karels in a statement on Friday. Karels is president of the National Association of State Foresters.
“It’s too late for Congress to act to prevent transfers this fire season. But Congress must act soon to ensure this is the last time we rob resources to fund fire suppression at the expense of our nation’s forests’ long-term health.”