NASF, partners write to House leadership on critical importance of state, volunteer wildfire programs

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The National Association of State Foresters, the National Volunteer Fire Council, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Congressional Fire Services Institute, and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture have sent a letter to U.S. House of Representatives leadership in support of two critically important wildfire protection programs: State Fire Assistance (SFA) and Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA).

SFA and VFA, programs housed within the USDA Forest Service's State and Private Forestry mission area, help reduce the federal government's emergency wildfire suppression costs and the threats presented by wildfire to communities on both public and private lands. The letter in support of these programs was addressed to Representatives Ken Calvert and Betty McCollum, the chairman and ranking member respectively of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.

The SFA program assists states and local fire departments in responding to wildland fires and conducting management activities that mitigate fire risk on non-federal lands. The program also helps train state and local first responders who are often first to arrive at a wildland fire incident, as well as equip them with the tools they need to put wildfires out in efficiently and safely. For example, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, SFA directly funded hazardous fuel treatments on 83,845 acres (with another 92,276 acres treated with leveraged funding from partners) and provided assistance to communities around the country, supporting 4,581 risk assessment and fire management planning projects in more than 3,100 communities.

The VFA program provides support to rural communities and is critical to ensuring adequate capacity to respond to wildfires, reducing the risk to communities, people, homes and property, and firefighters. According to the Forest Service, during FY 2017, the VFA program helped provide assistance to 8,821 communities, train 17,140 firefighters, expanded or organize 61 fire departments, and purchase, rehabilitate, or maintain nearly $9 million in equipment.

The localized support provided by SFA and VFA is crucial because most wildfires (80 percent during 2017) burn within state and local fire department jurisdictions. Even when it comes to wildfires on federal lands, SFA-and-VFA-supported crews and engines are often the first to respond. Additionally, between 2008 and 2012, the programs helped deliver more than $150 million annually in equipment for use by state and local first responders.

In their letter, the signatories recommended SFA be funded at $87 million and VFA be funded at $16 million in FY 2019. "We appreciate the difficult task the Committee faces in the current budget climate," they wrote, but "(i)t is important to remember, however, that these vital programs safeguard human life, habitat, and property, and reduce the overall cost of wildland fire management."

Have questions? Contact NASF Communications Director Whitney Forman-Cook at wforman-cook@stateforesters.org.