04.03.14

Playing with Fire: Budgeting for Extreme Wildfires is a Disaster

For Immediate Release: April 3, 2014
Contact:
Jen Gilbreath (Resources), 202-225-4081

REPORT: BUDGET CUTS FORCE AGENCIES TO RAID PREVENTION FUNDS TO FIGHT MASSIVE WILDFIRES

Over $500 million “borrowed” from fire prevention and restoration programs

Washington, D.C. – A new report, released today by Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee Peter DeFazio (D-OR), shows that deep budget cuts have hindered efforts by the U.S. Forest Service (Service) and the Department of Interior (DOI) to fight catastrophic wildfires. The report found that fire suppression funding for the Service was slashed nearly in half over the last few years, from $1.4 billion in FY2010 to $850 million in FY2012. These cuts have forced the Service and DOI to “borrow”, or transfer funds, from other fire prevention and restoration programs to respond to the extreme wildfires of recent years and fill shortfalls in suppression funding.

“When facing massive wildfires, federal agencies shouldn’t be forced to essentially rob Peter to pay Paul to get the money they need to pay for aggressive suppression efforts. This report shows that over the past few years, these incredibly stupid cuts have forced the agencies to pay to fight massive fires by raiding funds that should go towards fire prevention. Congress needs to treat extreme wildfires as true disasters—with full funding before, during, and in the aftermath,” said DeFazio.

The Forest Service in 2013 alone redirected more than $500 million to firefighting from other programs, while the Interior Department redirected more than $34 million.

In just 2013, the Service borrowed from many important programs, including the following:

  • $183 million from Restoration of Forest Lands and Improvements;
  • $40 million from the National Forest System;
  • $30 million from Brush Disposal; and
  • $30 million from Improvements and Maintenance.

The report criticizes the FY2015 House Republican budget, which opposes a bipartisan, bicameral fix that would treat extreme wildfires as disasters, provide a reliable funding stream, and end the need to borrow money to fight fires.

This legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate that would allow disaster funds to be used in responding to select extreme wildfires. DeFazio is an original co-sponsor of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R. 3992), introduced by Reps. Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR). Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) are the original sponsors of the Senate legislation (S. 1875). In addition, both the Interior Department and the Forest Service have similar proposals in their FY2015 budgets.

A PDF of the report can be found here.

Video of DeFazio discussing wildfire suppression funding can be found here