In testimony today before the House Interior Appropriations Committee, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell offered his unwavering support to Congress for their efforts to find a long-term solution that addresses the growing problem of paying for catastrophic wildfires. Funding has not kept pace with the cost of fighting wildfire.
“Our primary budget priority remains finding a way to fund growing fire suppression costs without further eroding resources for restoration, water, recreation and other management priorities, and without the need for mid-season transfers,” said Tidwell. “The year 2015 was a record year in terms of acres burned and dollars spent. Based on the 10-year average, historically used to calculate fire suppression funding, the cost for fighting fire increased by $237 million from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2017. In a constrained budget, no agency can absorb this level of increase in costs.”
In fiscal year 2016, however, Congress approved a single-year funding boost for the agency’s fire suppression budget--beyond the historical formula used for calculating funds. But there is no long-term solution to the funding challenge. This includes both the transfer of funds from other programs to pay for firefighting and the rising costs for fire suppression, which erodes the agency’s annual budget for other land stewardship purposes. The U.S. Forest Service is the only federal government agency that is required to fund its emergency management efforts through its regular appropriated discretionary budget.
Meanwhile, the President’s proposed overall budget for discretionary funding for the Forest Service totaled $4.9 billion for Fiscal Year 2017. That is $787 million less than the FY 2016 enacted level and reflects strategic investments to reduce wildfire threats to communities and maintain forest restoration investments.
The Forest Service responds to the many stressors affecting America’s landscapes and watersheds by sustaining and restoring healthy, resilient forests and grasslands. The goal is to protect and restore the ability of America’s forests and grasslands to deliver all the social, economic, and ecological values and benefits that Americans want and need, both now and for generations to come. The FY 2017 President’s budget makes key investments in program areas such as ecological restoration – to treat 4.7 million acres; forest products – to include an anticipated sale of 3.2 billion board feet of timber; the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program – which will continue 23 existing projects and propose increasing the authorized funding level from $40 million to $80 million for future years; and hazardous fuels treatments – with an increase of $9.1 million to focus on fuels treatment to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire on 1.8 million acres: and suppression – with an increase of $62.9 million above the FY 2016 enacted level.
The FY 2017 President’s budget will help the Forest Service build thriving communities by helping ensure abundant clean water, jobs and flourishing local economies, and opportunities to connect to the outdoors.
Chief Tidwell also stated, “Our budget priorities highlight the need to strengthen cooperation, collaboration and public/private partnerships that leverage our investments to reach shared goals.”
Other key investments to deliver benefits to the public include: landscape scale restoration - with an increase of $9.5 million above the FY 2016 enacted level to fund about 20 more innovative, cross-boundary projects that target high-priority areas; recreation, heritage and wilderness - with an increase of $2.2 million above the FY 2016 enacted level that will modernize the recreation special uses program, expand access to the National Forest System, and increase the capacity of community service and volunteer programs; facilities - to maintain developed recreation sites and fire, administrative, and other facilities; and forest health management - to address forest health on both federal and cooperative lands by treating 644,000 acres with mechanical, prescribed fire or other tools.
The FY 2017 President’s budget also makes key investments in forest inventory and analysis - with an increase of $2 million from the FY 2016 enacted level to continue to implement an annual inventory program in all 50 States, the affiliated Pacific islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; land management planning, assessment, and monitoring - through implementing the 2012 planning rule, which promotes a collaborative, science-based approach for planning, monitoring and conducting assessments; and international forestry to help prevent illegal logging internationally, protect U.S. forests from invasive species, support international policy discussions on climate change and the role of forests and grasslands in greenhouse gas mitigation, and bring innovative technology developments to the United States.