Simpson wants to Reintroduce Wildfire Disaster Funding ActWashington-Two western Congressman want to fix the way US wildfires are paid for.
Congressman Mike Simpson and Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader have reintroduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. Its legislation that would fix the outdated budgeting process for wildfires once and for all.
For years, Congress budgeted the cost of wildfire by appropriating money according to the average cost for wildfires over the past ten years, known as the “ten-year average.” When costs go over an agency’s fire budget, that agency is forced to borrow from non-fire accounts to pay for fire fighting. This practice is known as “fire-borrowing.” Using money from these accounts means that the Forest Service and the BLM has less money for forest management programs like hazardous fuels reduction that prevents catastrophic fires. The way things are now, wildfires get worse because programs needed to curb the threat of wildfires are needed for suppression.
“I’ve seen the cost of wildfires in Idaho and the impacts it has on our forests when funds that are planned for forest management are used to fight wildfires,” said Congressman Simpson. “When more than fifty percent of an agency’s budget is unpredictable, you are creating a recipe for the unsustainable fire-borrowing we see today that devastates our forests and costs taxpayers. I am pleased to reintroduce the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act with Congressman Schrader again this Congress. It is time to acknowledge that catastrophic wildfires should be funded like natural disasters so we can ensure that land managers have the resources they need to properly manage our forests.”
“Simply put, the current system is broken,” said Schrader. “Because we do no project management to help protect our forests, we end up paying much more to fight costly carbon producing wildfires that again devastate our ability to do the critical forest management on our public lands in the first place. These fires should be treated the same as any other natural disaster. Budgeting to address the mismanagement of our forests would free up financial resources. Our bill will work to fix this root problem by reducing fuel loads, improving forest health, save taxpayers money, and provide jobs in our struggling rural communities.”
Fire borrowing was intended to be an extraordinary measure to help in bad wildfire years. However, this practice has become the norm and not the exception, which has caused wildfire costs to increase. According to the Forest Service, wildfire costs were 56% of their total budget in 2016. In 1995, the Forest Service spent only 16% of their total budget fighting wildfires. By 2025, that number could increase to nearly 70% if nothing is done to fix the budgeting process.
The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would end fire borrowing by treating wildfires like other natural disasters when wildfire suppression costs are exhausted. Most importantly, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would protect land management programs by protecting the budget from the increasing ten-year average.
Wildfire suppression would still be funded through the normal budgeting and appropriations process, but when the Forest Service exceeds its annual wildfire suppression budget, the agency would be able to fund wildfire fighting costs like other natural disasters. This allows the Forest Service and other land management agencies to maintain resources in the prevention accounts they are intended for, ultimately preventing catastrophic wildfires from growing in size and cost.