U.S. Forest Service to begin “fire transfer” by the end of August

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.”


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3 thoughts on “U.S. Forest Service to begin “fire transfer” by the end of August”

  1. Fuel treatment and reduction projects may make a small impact on the growth or start of fires however the major contributor to cost overrun on fires is over staffing and over managing. Most evident in California. Anyone with a minimal grasp on situational awareness can see the number of resources assigned to fires does not match the workload. There are many people who do work very hard on these incidents yet even they have down time, and there are those who contribute very little, or not at all, to suppression or rehab. Resources are staged for days, even weeks, many being paid 24 hours per day, everyday, while only going on shift every other day. A ludicrous amount of money is spent on unnecessary hotel lodging stating it is necessary for “quality rest”, however those making that statement more often than not sit idly by in their equipment while on shift often miles away from any contribution that could be made. Aircraft are overused, often due to the fact that they will be released if they are not receiving operational assignments, the security blanket of air support is then retained most often via heli-moping heat sources that pose no threat to containment and would simply burn themselves out. Air support is however, invaluable, and arguably the most effective fire suppression tool. Yet tools can be overused or used better elsewhere. Fires will never be cheap to manage but until those managing these fires begin to “trim the fat” they will continue to deplete our financial resources. Integrity is not homogeneous across the fire industry.

  2. Treatment can still be done by either qualified contractors or Gov employees that have taken S212 Saws class

    To say the 30K fire staff are the only folks that can handle a saw just because they are on assignment. ..is telling…

    About time other than fire folks get to do fuels reduction projects…trail crews, recently types.etc all could handle a saw safely with other GS and WG types

    Betting there are some not even on assignment that could handle FR projects on smaller scales to get moved off center

  3. Although some care has to be taken in reading lists of cancelled or deferred prevention and fuel reduction projects. The folks who would be doing the fuels work are quite likely out on fire assignments, and the planning, compliance, preparation , and execution of the fuels projects are pretty unlikely to be done because wildfire activity is consuming the staffs’ time, especially this late in the fiscal year. Contacts and construction projects can be offered up that were behind schedule anyway and unlikely to be done this fiscal year already, or again, the folks needed to write the contracts are out on fires. There are certainly impacts because of fund transfers on good projects, but the real culprit with regard to the work not getting done may simply be the activity and mobilization of 30,000 people for the fire season, not just the cost of the fire season and fund transfers to pay for it. Suggestions will no doubt appear to appropriate more fuels funding because of this fire season, but there is no guarantee that any more acres will get treated, if no one is home to do the treatments as wildfire seasons continue to worsen with heavy mobilization.


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