USA — The two federal agencies responsible for fighting wildfires in Elko County and elsewhere across the West have very different ideas about how to cut their budgets under sequestration.
We believe the Bureau of Land Management is taking the best approach, and the U.S. Forest Service needs to go back to the drawing board.
The Forest Service plans to cut initial fire attacks as one way to save 5 percent of its $5 billion annual budget. Considering that every dollar spent on initial attack saves countless dollars needed to contain a full-blown fire, we think the agencys plan spells disaster.
In contrast, BLM officials told the Free Press they plan to be mission capable this fire season. The agency plans to maintain full staff, even if it means there is no money to extend the season into the fall like it did last year.
Either method of coping with the budget cuts could result in considerable damage, but it makes sense to maintain a strong initial attack whenever possible. Instead, we are hearing that the Forest Service will let many fires burn this year, without even trying to put them out.
The move, quietly made in a letter late last month by Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, brings the agency more in line with the National Parks Service and back to what it had done until last year, the Associated Press reported Friday.
Last years approach may seem like a failure, on its surface. Despite the Forest Services extra effort and going $400 million over budget, massive fires scorched much of the West, particularly in New Mexico and Colorado. We wonder, though, how much more drought-stricken forest and property might have been lost without a vigorous firefighting policy.
The firefighting budget is not all the Forest Service plans to cut this year because of sequestration. There will be across-the-board closures of campgrounds, trailheads and picnic sites nationwide.
We can think of better things to trim, such as the $295 million budgeted for forest and rangeland research; or the $277 million for land acquisition and conserving open space; or the $346 million for capital improvements; or the $140 million for law enforcement and investigations; or the $78 million for land ownership management; or the $55 million to engage urban America with Forest Service programs.
It would even be OK with us if the displaced outhouse along the road in Lamoille Canyon remains nonfunctional for yet another year. That would be better than seeing the Rubies go up in flames.