Multiple Agencies Petition Congress to Change the Way the Nation Pays for Wildfires
Good news for Montana as we find ourselves in the second-largest fire season so far this decade.
Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and the White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan sent a joint letter to Congress requesting they act to change the way the nation pays for wildfire costs so that we can continue to adequately invest in forest and rangeland restoration, and make lands less vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire and more resilient.
While the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior are able to suppress or manage 98 percent of fires with allocated funds, catastrophic megafires burn through the agency's financial resources. One to two percent of fires consume 30 percent or more of total actual annual fire suppression dollars.
"Restoring resilient forests helps to protect against future fire outbreaks and is vital to minimizing long-term costs to lives, private and public properties, and to struggling rural economies. Under the current budget structure we are forced to abandon these critical restoration and capital improvement projects in order to suppress these few but extreme fires" Vilsack said. "The President's budget solution, similar to the proposed Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, takes a common sense approach and treats these events like other natural disasters."
The Forest Service transferred funds in seven of the last 14 years, while in six of the last 14 years, DOI had to transfer funds.
The costs of wildfire preparedness and suppression now account for 76 percent of the DOI wildfire management program budget and, as in the case of the Forest Service, reduce the amounts of funds available for fuels management and restoration efforts. These activities are essential for reducing risks of catastrophic fires, increasing the resiliency of lands to recover from fire, and to protect communities and infrastructure.