Congress debates the future of wildfire funding and forest management

Thursday, July 7, 2016

As wildfires burn in the West, debate on wildfire suppression funding has heated up in the nation’s capital. Even though the portion of the US Forest Service budget dedicated to fire suppression has been increasing steadily, these funds are routinely exhausted before the fire season ends. As such, the Forest Service must borrow from its other programs to fight fires, such as those meant to actively manage forests and prevent future fires.

California, for instance, has 66 million dead trees, which have succumbed to prolonged drought conditions and pest infestations. The vital need for a solution is evident to all, but there is a lack of agreement on the means. Some propose funding the suppression of the most costly wildfires as natural disasters while others propose a budget cap adjustment, which would allow the Forest Service to apply for more funding if and when they exhaust their suppression appropriations.

As Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski points out, “The wildfire problem is not just a budget problem – it’s also a management problem.” Both “fire borrowing” and the erosion of the Forest Service’s non-fire suppression programs need to be addressed. The various efforts of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and the House leadership and Committee on Natural Resources are all steps in the right direction toward fixing wildfire funding and creating more healthy and resilient forests.

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