USA — Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry, and Natural Resources, welcomed todays announcement by the White House that its annual budget request to Congress would include a significant change in how the government pays to fight wildfires.
The request is modeled after a bipartisan Senate bill, S. 1875, The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2013, that Bennet cosponsored, that would allow the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior to fight some wildfires using emergency funds separate from their discretionary budgets. This would, in essence, fund wildfire response similarly to the way response efforts for hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes are funded, by allowing the Forest Service to draw from an off-budget account whenever costs exceed 70 percent of the 10-year average cost of wildfire suppression.
Escalating firefighting costs have caused the Forest Service to routinely borrow money from other programs, like mitigation, so it can continue to fight fires, Bennet said. But this ends up costing us more in the long run. Its a classic case of penny-wise and pound foolish. Todays announcement addresses this issue by promoting a smarter, more sensible approach to dealing with wildfires that will save us money in the future.
Bennet has long advocated for this smarter approach to handling wildfires, most recently in a subcommittee hearing he chaired in November entitled Shortchanging Our Forests: How Tight Budgets and Management Decisions Can Increase the Risk of Wildfire.
Bennet was also instrumental in securing several provisions designed to reduce the risk of wildfire into the 2014 Farm Bill, signed into law earlier this month. These include the permanent reauthorization of stewardship contracting, the nationwide expansion of so-called good neighbor authority, and an expedited treatment process for forest land that has been damaged by insects or disease. These were all based on bills or amendments that Bennet authored.