Vilsack, Jewell, Donovan request change to wildfire funding
September 18, 2015
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan sent a joint letter to Congress today requesting they act to change the way the nation pays for the cost of fighting wildfires.
The Agriculture Department on Monday notified Congress of the need to transfer an additional $250 million to cover wildfire suppression costs for the remainder of the year.
Amidst longer and more severe fire seasons and the need to transfer funds from other programs, the Obama administration has repeatedly asked Congress to pass a Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, but Congress has not acted.
The Forest Service transferred funds in seven of the last 14 years, while in six of the last 14 years, Interior had to transfer funds.
The administration proposes that Interior and the Forest Service would be able to access a discretionary disaster cap adjustment after the amount spent on fire suppression exceeds 70 percent of the 10-year average. This is mirrored in the proposed bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA), which is budget neutral and also has broad stakeholder support, USDA said.
This approach allows the agencies to invest additional resources in forest and rangeland restoration and management, USDA said.
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In the case of the Forest Service, it would increase acres treated by 1 million acres a year and increase timber outputs by 300 million board feet annually. In the Department of the Interior, it would increase the number of acres treated annually by 500,000 acres and help protect public lands such as the sage steppe ecosystem.
The letter said that the House-passed Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, H.R. 2647 "is incompatible with the federal government's natural disaster management needs because it does not address the long-term shift in the Forest Service's budget and the escalating percent of the Forest Service budget devoted to fire suppression."
In a separate release, USDA noted that farmers affected by the fires are eligible for assistance under a wide range of USDA programs.
–the Hagstrom Report