Fewer federal fire-fighting dollars expected in Nevada

Fewer federal fire-fighting dollars expected in Nevada

25 January 2007

published by www.lasvegassun.com

NV, USA — Nevada lawmakers were told Thursday that the state expects less federal firefighting money despite the threat of increasing numbers of wildfires.

Natural resources agency officials also pushed for better water-planning measures in Nevada, noting that disputes over water have tripled in the nation’s most arid state in the last several years.

Gov. Jim Gibbons’ state general fund budget for the next two fiscal years for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is up 33 percent, to $64.1 million, over the current two-year budget.

When federal and other funds are added in, the total for the coming two years is $228.6 million, according to the state budget office.

“There is a fire cycle within Nevada that is going out of control,” agency director Allen Biaggi told a joint Senate-Assembly budget panel. “We are losing our wildland habitat, our sagebrush habitat.”

“As it burns, it is being converted into cheat grass and invasive species, which causes it to burn even more frequently and causes us to have even higher fire suppression costs.”

As development spreads farther into desert and forest areas, firefighting costs will continue to rise, Biaggi said.

State Forester Pete Anderson said there needs to be more coordination between state, local and federal agencies to increase efficiency in fighting fires.

It’s unclear just how much lost revenue the federal cuts mean. The Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service are facing a 25 percent reduction in federal funds for firefighting, and Anderson expected similar cuts for state agencies such as the Division of Forestry, which he said is often the first to respond to fires.

“We feel comfortable for the next two years because of existing grants we have,” Anderson said. But staffing cuts may needed if funding reductions continue after that, he said.

Fire remains the biggest threat to Lake Tahoe, Biaggi said, adding that a catastrophic fire could “unravel” many of the environmental gains made at the lake. The region will get more than $9 million this year from Nevada for restoration projects. The money is the last installment of an $82 million commitment the state made 10 years ago to the region’s environmental improvement program.

Besides fire concerns, Biaggi stressed that the state’s water issues deserve more attention and pushed lawmakers to reconsider a bill that would have funded comprehensive water planning for the state. The bill was sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas.

Gibbon’s budget allocates $2 million for the Desert Research Institute to conduct a comprehensive water inventory of the state.

“We are going to do an inventory, but we aren’t going to plan what we are going to do with the water that we find or don’t find,” Titus said. “If you do an inventory without a plan, then what good is the inventory?”

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