Policy Update Sep 12, 2016

Position on Fire Suppression Funding Solutions

NPCA, along with partners, submitted the following position to members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and Committee on the Budget.

NPCA is seeking a comprehensive solution to the wildfire suppression funding issue. We are commenting on the wildfire suppression funding provisions in HR 2647, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, and proposed substitute legislation.

Historically, the need for transfers of funding from non-fire programs has limited the ability of the Department of the Interior and USDA Forest Service to suppress wildfires without impacting budgets of other fire prevention and management programs. Of more concern is how the increasing ten-year average for wildfire suppression has exacerbated this funding problem. Longer fire seasons, increasing development in the wildland-urban interface, and growing fuel loads are among the many factors that contribute to wildfire suppression costs.

The fire funding solution in both HR 2647 and the proposed substitute would ban the practice of transferring additional funds when appropriated funding is spent, but that’s only a partial fix in addressing the impacts from rising wildland firefighting costs. These proposals do not address the larger problem of shifting funding from non-fire programs to fire programs, which results from the way firefighting funds are calculated, budgeted, and allocated. As that ten-year average is used to calculate suppression increases, and as budgets remain relatively flat, less is available for forest management and restoration, research, recreation, and other critical private and public land objectives. The proposed legislation is also unclear as to whether declarations would be necessary for each fire incident, which may still force agencies to transfer funding from other programs.

Last November, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing, “Wildfire: Stakeholder Perspectives on Budgetary Impacts and Threats to Natural Resources on Federal, State and Private Lands”, highlighting the challenges associated with wildfires on forests. Every stakeholder witness testified that fire funding is the biggest challenge facing forest management and each supported a comprehensive fire funding solution. A comprehensive fire funding fix would 1) address the continued erosion of agency budgets that results from the increasing ten-year average, and stabilize the level of funding for suppression within the agencies; 2) access disaster funding for extraordinarily costly fires, including those that may be calculated as part of the ten-year average; and 3) significantly reduce the need to transfer from non-suppression accounts and programs. To meet all these criteria, we recommend any fire funding proposal be amended to fund suppression at 70 percent of the ten-year average, similar to the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, or alternatively, to freeze the ten-year average and access disaster funding for levels beyond that amount.

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