For more than a decade, federal funding allocations to fight wildfires have fallen short. Year after year, in the face of significant wildfires, the forest service has been forced to raid funding from other programs in the midst of wildfire season in order to meet its budget. The new 2018 Omnibus Appropriations bill will cut the current practice of “fire borrowing” by providing designated federal funds for wildfire management and allowing Forest Service budgets to be spent as they were intended—on recreation, services, and programs.
Since 1995, the cost of wildfire management and suppression has surpassed the projections almost every year, resulting in major cuts to other programs. Fewer and fewer dollars have been spent on programs such as wildfire prevention efforts, trail and road maintenance, and infrastructure updates. In 2017 alone, the Forest Service spent more than $2 billion on wildfire suppression, which equates to 55 percent of the agency’s entire budget.
Under the new bipartisan bill, wildfire management will receive a comprehensive funding solution for major forest fires from the federal government. Rather than drawing from the Forest Service budget, wildfire funding will receive an additional fund—on top of their regular budget—to aid in fire management. The disaster relief budget will begin in 2020 as an additional $2.25 billion and will ramp up to $2.95 billion by 2027.
Quite frankly, this means less money is diverted from the Forest Service budget to fight fires, more funding will be available to keep forests healthy, and conduct regular trail maintenance and complete necessary trail restoration work after a fire sweeps through. //
Feature photo: Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service