Record Fires and Budget Constraints Trap U.S. Forest Service in a Catch-22

Record Fires and Budget Constraints Trap U.S. Forest Service in a Catch-22

More than Half of Budget Goes to Fighting Fires, Hindering Restoration that Helps Prevent Fires.

The U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, manages nearly 200 million acres of public land that produces 20% of the nation’s clean water supply, and stewards sustainability efforts across more than 600 million acres of forestland. Its mission is “to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands” by battling wildfires and administering restoration, watershed and wildlife programs. (source: http://www.fs.fed.us) Restoration efforts are particularly critical since healthy forests are better able to withstand stress brought on by drought, changes in climate and wildfire.

But two recent phenomena possibly linked to global warming – record droughts in the West and wildfire seasons that start earlier and last longer– are causing the agency to exhaust money allocated to fire suppression each year, necessitating the transfer of funds earmarked for restoration that make forests more resilient to wildfire. Whereas spending on fire suppression accounted for 16% of total agency spending in 1995, it represented 52% of the agency’s $6.5 billion budget in fiscal year 2015. The end result is a classic catch-22. Insufficient clearing and restoring of forestland allows for fire fuel to build up, exacerbating the vicious cycle and endangering American lives and property. According to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, “Development close to forests has also increased the threat to property, with more than 46 million homes in the United States, or about 40 percent of our nation’s housing, potentially at risk from wildfire.” (source: http://www.fs.fed.us/news/releases/statement-secretary-tom-vilsack-ongoing-devastating-wildfire-season)

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015, sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, could remedy the catch. It proposes treating wildfires more like other natural disasters and should restore the agency’s capacity to protect against future wildfires, not just combat them. Specifically, the bill calls for adjustments to spending limits for FY2016 through FY2025 to ensure adequate funding for wildfire suppression operations. Moreover, the legislation would require the President’s annual budget to include the average costs for wildfire suppression over the previous ten years. On January 22, 2015, the bill was assigned to a congressional committee for consideration.

Another way the USDA hopes to restore tens of millions of acres of forests and watershed is through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program authorized in the 2009 Omnibus Public Lands Management Act. The program encourages collaboration and community involvement and seeks to leverage public and private resources to improve ecological, economic and social outcomes. Just this month USDA issued a progress update showing that the program, now encompassing 23 projects across 15 states, has treated more than 1.45 million acres of forest to reduce wildfire risk and has generated more than 1.25 billion board feet of timber sales. For more information, see the CFLR 5-Year Report: http://www.fs.fed.us/restoration/documents/cflrp/CFLRP_5-YearReport.pdf

The information herein was compiled by Butcher Block Co., an online seller of wood countertops; butcher block kitchen islands, carts, tables and workstations; and wooden cutting boards and knife blocks (https://butcherblockco.com). BBC salutes the U.S. Forest Service and USDA for their sustained progress in the face of natural and budgetary challenges.

For more information please visit: https://butcherblockco.com

Contact:

Kathleen Grodsky
[email protected]
website: https://butcherblockco.com
phone: (877) 845-5597

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