USA — President Barack Obama joined a growing political force calling for a fundamental shift in wildfire and timber management Tuesday with his 2015 budget proposal.
An era of catastrophic wildfires in the West has taken a giant bite out of the U.S. Forest Services budget, shortchanging its programs for recreation and land management in northern Wisconsins 1.5 million acre Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
This doesnt increase overall discretionary spending, but it would allow the Department of Agriculture to tap the already designated disaster funds, said Brian Deese, deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget during a conference call with reporters. This is to avoid the situation when we have a bad fire year and Interior and Agriculture have to take money … and shift it to suppression.
A 2013 Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigation showed that the CNNF cut about half of its allotted timber over the last decade. Forest officials blame the wildfires in the West as a contributing factor to a shortfall in Wisconsin timber harvesting.
Since 2002, more than $3 billion has been cannibalized from federal recreation and management budgets to squelch fires that demand expensive hand crews, airtankers and hundreds of firefighters.
Mike Anderson, a senior policy analyst with the Wilderness Society, saidbipartisan support is slowly developing for any plan that separates the Forest Services burdensome wildfire spending and the rest of its management goals.
However, like most of the Obama budget, the proposal will likely encounter roadblocks, most prominently from Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, said Anderson, whose group is a conservation lobby focused on wildlife, forests and energy.
Congressman Ryan seems to be still unwilling to make that change in funding plans to get rid of fire borrowing and allow the Forest Service to do something besides fight fires, Anderson said.
Decades ago, about 20 percent of the forestry budget was devoted to fire suppression. Now, that portion is more than half, or $3 billion.
Ryan helped lead the 2014 budget agreement reached in December that includes $306 million to reduce hazardous fuels nationwide far higher than Obama requested.
The Janesville Congressman took a swipe at Obamas wildfire proposal Tuesday since it didnt add funding. The presidents budget outlays $6.2 billion over the next five years for wildfire suppression.
Preventing and fighting wildfires are national priorities, and the president should budget accordingly, Ryan said in an email. Yet the president is asking for $1.2 billion less than what he believes is necessary. Congress just agreed to caps on discretionary spending, which will reach over $1 trillion in the coming year.The fact that the President refused to use one-tenth of one percent of that money to fully fund wildfire prevention and suppression speaks to his real priorities.
Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin sent a letter to the Obama administration back in December that outlined the issue with fire transfers that have crippled the Forest Service budget. She also backs a piece of legislation that would authorize similar catastrophe spending.
On Tuesday, Baldwin said the presidents proposal would help the Wisconsin timber industry.
In December, I urged President Obama to include in his budget a new plan to solve the chronic problem of taking funding intended for forest management and fire prevention activities and instead using it for wildfire suppression, Baldwin wrote in an email. In Wisconsin and across the country, this leaves the U.S. Forest Service without resources to complete its critical missions related to timber contract management, forest health and forest fire prevention.