Washington, DC (March 3, 2014) – President Obama promised last week to include a new approach to funding wildfire suppression as part of his FY 2015 budget proposals, which will be released tomorrow, March 4th. ACTrees is excited about the President’s commitment to this new approach and will work with partners to help build support for it in Congress. Here’s why it’s important for urban forests.
The President’s proposal is based on bipartisan legislation recently introduced in the Senate and House–the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act–for which ACTrees has expressed its support as part of a broad coalition, the Partner Caucus on Fire Suppression Funding Solutions (see “ACTrees Supports Legislation to Address Impacts of Wildfire Spending“).
The proposal will ask Congress to enable the Forest Service and Department of Interior to treat extreme wildfires as disasters and pay for fire suppression costs in the same way Congress finances other disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes—through a special disaster account of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
This new disaster funding approach will help the Forest Service and Department of the Interior avoid having to transfer money from other important programs to pay for suppression costs that exceed their annual budgets. In recent years, the agencies often have been forced to transfer funds to meet suppression costs, a practice that has negatively affected a wide range of programs, including the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program.
According to the New York Times, which first reported this story, President Obama will include this wildfire funding proposal as one of his climate change initiatives, such as the $1 billion “climate resiliency fund” he announced last month. The proposal will address the long-term risks and costs of increasing wildfires under a changing climate. A 2013 Forest Service study concluded that wildfires are expected to increase 50% across the United States under a changing climate, and over 100% in areas of the Western United States by 2050.
ACTrees is delighted that President Obama will propose this new approach to wildfire suppression funding. The President’s support should greatly enhance the chances of the bipartisan legislation to pass Congress.
We are also pleased to see the President taking a long-term perspective and discussing the link between increasing wildfires and climate change. Given the contentiousness of the climate change issue, however, this link may present additional political challenges. Stay tuned.