Friday, June 17, 2016

Dear Senate: Make that Fire Fix Comprehensive, Please!

This week, over 100 diverse organizations submitted a letter requesting that the Senate comprehensively address a long-term fix to a reoccurring wildfire funding problem.

The issue? In combination with eroding budgets, the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior increasingly need to transfer funds from their non-fire programs to fire suppression efforts as wildfires grow larger and more expensive. This ultimately removes money from important conservation programs like forest restoration and health, recreation area maintenance, hazardous fuels reduction projects, and other public and private lands programs that make wildfires more manageable in the future.

While the letter applauds these Senators for bringing up the important topic, the diverse group of 100 organizations urges them to go farther. The letter highlights how the current version of the discussion draft provides only a partial fix to addressing the impacts from rising wildland firefighting costs.

Three main criteria to address the fix: 1. The solution needs to address the continued erosion of agency budgets that results from an increasing ten-year average of fire suppression funding. It should do this by stabilizing the level of funding for suppression within the agencies. 2. Agencies need to be able to access disaster funding for extraordinarily costly wildfires, including those that may be calculated as part of the ten-year average. 3. A solution should work to significantly reduce the need for agencies to transfer money from non-fire program accounts.

These criteria represent bipartisan beliefs and signers on the letter include groups ranging from environmental to timber industry groups—all who view the need for a funding fix as essential. The letter concludes by calling attention to several approaches to amending the discussion draft to meet a comprehensive fix, including funding fire suppression at 70 percent of the ten-year average, similarly to the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, or by freezing the ten-year average and accessing disaster funding for levels beyond. It’s critical that the focus remains on addressing those three areas of concern so that federal agencies can effectively carryout their missions.