Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) this week applauded a provision in legislation proposed by the Senate Appropriations Committee that would boost federal resources for wildfires.
The provision in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2018 would take an important step forward in ending chronic shortfalls in the Forest Service’s wildfire suppression budget. This year, the government spent a record-breaking $2.9 billion fighting wildfires, while Congress only appropriated $5 billion for the entire Forest Service budget. The resulting funding imbalance forces the Forest Service to cannibalize non-wildfire programs such as recreation, trail maintenance, and wildlife conservation – an increasingly common practice known as “fire-borrowing.” Today, more than 55 percent of the agency budget is devoted to wildfire suppression compared to 15 percent in the 1990’s.
The provision would ensure that the Forest Service receives 100% of the funds it needs for wildfire suppression based on a 10-year average. The provision would also allow the Forest Service to tap supplemental emergency wildfire accounts using a more accurate wildfire budget predicator known as the FLAME forecast model. The bill’s funding structure is similar to legislation introduced in 2015 by Senators McCain, Flake and Barrasso, known as the FLAME Act Amendments. By appropriating emergency wildfire funding up front – rather than at the end – of a wildfire season, Congress can help prevent Forest Service fire-borrowing with increased certainty.
“The Senate Appropriations Committee has taken a positive step forward in addressing the Forest Service’s fire borrowing issue,” said Senator McCain. “In addition to funding wildfire suppression, the long-term solution to reducing wildfire risk is prevention through industry-driven sustainable forestry. More than 20 percent of the pine forests in Arizona have been consumed by wildfire, which is reason enough to make forest ecosystem restoration a top priority at the Forest Service.”
“After working for years to pass the FLAME Act Amendments, it’s encouraging to see the Interior Appropriations Committee put forward a like-minded, fiscally-responsible solution to fire-borrowing,” said Senator Flake.