UPDATE 3/31: The fire funding amendment passed by unanimous consent, thanks in large part to strong support from the outdoor recreation and environmental community.
In recent years, hotter temperatures and droughts across the west have caused a rash of wildfires, including a handful of “megafires,” with all of the destructive qualities of other natural disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes. While they are relatively rare (only 1% of all wildfires), these megafires eat up 30% of the costs budgeted for wildfire suppression on public lands.In addition to the devastating effect of these fires on our public lands and local communities, responding to megafires is costly. The Forest Service has been forced to “borrow” funds from other parts of its budget to pay for fire suppression for 8 out of the last 10 years. One of the results of this problem with fire suppression accounting is that funding and staff are diverted from important tasks affecting recreation, like trail building and planning.
Year after year, funding is diverted from other projects to pay for fire control, including land management work that helps to prevent wildfires. Common sense bills, introduced in the House by Reps. Simpson (R-ID) and Schrader (D-OR), and in the Senate by Sens. Wyden (D-OR) and Crapo (R-ID), would treat catastrophic wildfires like other natural disasters, ensuring that other important work of the Forest Service doesn’t fall by the wayside. This change has broad bipartisan support, both in Congress and the Administration.
The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would have important benefits, not just for fighting fires, but also for recreation access, trail maintenance, and staffing on public lands. Hiking, mountain biking, camping, and climbing are affected by wildfire funding, not just because our lands are affected by wildfires, but also because the funds that maintain trails and campgrounds and pay for staff at parks and wilderness areas are often diverted to fight wildfires instead.
Making megafires eligible for natural disaster funding is not a spending increase. Rather, it is an important accounting fix that enables the Forest Service to continue its important work in protecting and managing public lands. Read our letter about fire funding here .