Firefighting Burns Through Forest Service Budget

FirefightingBurns Through Forest Service Budget

19 March 2008

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USA — This year’s wildfire season is about tobegin, and Congress is scrambling to figure out how to stop it from consumingthe U.S. Forest Service’s budget.

Over the past decade, the Forest Service has devoted an increasing share ofits annual funding toward putting out large, catastrophic fires. The servicerequested nearly $2 billion for wildland fire suppression in fiscal 2009, or 48percent of its discretionary account. Firefighting accounted for only 13 percentof the total in 1991.

“We’re approaching the majority of the budget,” said Rep. Raul M.Grijalva, D-Ariz. “It’s becoming a fire department.”

Nine million acres burned across the United States last year, and experts seelittle reason to believe that 2008 will be any different. Climate change anddrought are creating longer and more intense fire seasons, while a century offire suppression has made the forests more susceptible to burning, experts say.

An even more important factor is development in wooded areas, known as the“wildland-urban interface,” said Mark E. Rey, undersecretary for NaturalResources and the Environment at the Agriculture Department. This means theForest Service has to use more personnel and equipment to stop houses fromburning down.

Some experts think that better management policies could slow the increase infirefighting costs, although not reverse the trend entirely.

“What we’re talking about is, does it increase at two percent a year or20 percent a year?” said Kirk M. Rowdabaugh, president of the NationalAssociation of State Foresters.

The Bush administration is proposing deep reductions in other parts of theForest Service budget, and it would cut programs that are intended to preventsevere fires from happening.

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