Bill addressing wildfire funding crisis introduced in U.S. House, Senate

Mar 10, 2009

WASHINGTON – Like the mythological Phoenix rising from the ashes, the House of Representatives and the Senate today re-introduced a bill aimed at solving a critical part of America’s wildfire suppression funding crisis. The Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act is designed to help federal agencies address the escalating cost of suppressing wildfires. It would also relieve the burden placed on other vital programs and services each year when the agencies pull money away from them to fight fires.

Passed unanimously by the House last year but stalled in the Senate, the 2009 version of the bill is considered to have a much better chance of becoming law because President Barack Obama and even more members of Congress from both sides of the aisle favor its principles. FLAME Act’s key sponsors already include: Nick J. Rahall (D-West Virginia), Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona); Norm Dicks (D-Washington); Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Greg Walden (R-Oregon). Senate sponsors include Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Barbara Boxer (D-California), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Patty Murray (D-Washington), Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) and Jon Tester (D-Montana).

“The FLAME Act provides the right framework for managing fire suppression without putting it on the backs of other programs,” said William H. Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society. “This embodies the real-world budgeting process favored by the new Administration at a time when the strains of global warming are extending the dangers of the wildfire season driving up the costs of suppression.”

Specifically, the measure would create a reserve account that the Forest Service and Department of Interior could tap if they exhaust their firefighting budgets. This would prevent the annual practice of taking money away from other vital programs and services in order to fund wildfire suppression. Campground maintenance, land acquisition and watershed restoration are just a few examples of agency tasks that are placed in jeopardy each year.

Meanwhile, the cost of suppressing fires has grown enormously in recent years and projections indicate that this trend will only increase as a result of climate change and increasingly populated wooded areas. For example, the Forest Service has spent over $1 billion per year in five of the last seven years to extinguish fires. Wildland fire management activities (the largest component of which is suppression) rose from 13 percent of the agency’s budget in fiscal year 1991 to close to 50 percent in fiscal year 2008.

“The FLAME Act isn’t a silver bullet but it is a step in the right direction on getting firefighting costs under control,” said Cecilia Clavet, a national forest policy analyst with The Wilderness Society (TWS), which is working with National Association of State Foresters and American Forests in organizing a coalition of 100 diverse groups in developing recommendation that help solve the fire funding problem. “With longer fire seasons on the horizon, we cannot continue to bankrupt the agencies every year at the expense of protecting and promoting the values all Americans have come to expect from their public lands.”

The 2009 bill builds on the bipartisan support generated last year. In 2008, the bill was endorsed by the five former Forest Service chiefs, American Forests, National Association of State Foresters, National Association of Counties, National Federation of Federal Employees, the Western Governor’s Association, and nearly 40 other conservation and community-based and forestry organizations.

Contacts:

Christopher Lancette
TWS Communications Director
202-429-2692
chris_lancette@tws.org

Laura Schweitzer
Director of Forest Policy
American Forests
(202) 737-1944 ext.219

Caitlyn Peel
Council of Western State Foresters/
NASF Fire Suppression Staff Contact
(303) 445-4363