Washington, DC (February 17, 2014) – Alliance for Community Trees is one of a large and diverse group of organizations–160 in all–that signed onto a February 10th letter to Congress urging Members to support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. This legislation is a promising approach to manage the increasing costs of wildfire suppression without impacting other important programs within the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior, including Urban and Community Forestry.
For years the Forest Service and Department of the Interior have been forced to transfer money from other programs and services to fund wildfire suppression costs that exceed their suppression budgets. This practice has negatively affected a wide range of programs in both agencies, including the Urban and Community Forestry Program, which is part of the Forest Service’s State and Private Forestry branch. Ironically, the transfer of funds also has impeded the agencies’ ability to implement land management programs aimed at reducing wildfire risks to landscapes and communities.
The coalition that developed the letter–the Partner Caucus on Fire Suppression Funding Solutions–came together in 2009 to find a long-term strategy to stop the repeated annual transfers of funding from other important programs to wildfire suppression. The coalition supports the approach proposed in the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which would enable the Forest Service and Department of Interior to access “disaster” funds for wildfire suppression through a budget cap adjustment, similar to the mechanism used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The bill would define wildfire suppression costs beyond 70 percent of the 10-year rolling average as “natural disaster” costs qualified for FEMA support. The Forest Service and Department of Interior are currently the only federal agencies burdened with having to fund natural disasters within their annual discretionary budgets.
The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act has recently been introduced as a bipartisan companion bill in both chambers of Congress. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced the Senate bill (S. 1875) and Representatives Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) introduced the House bill (H.R. 3992).