May, 2014 – Identical bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives (H.R. 3992) and the Senate (S. 1875) that seek to alleviate the almost annual challenge of funding wildfire suppression. Currently, when the fire suppression budgets at the US Department of the Interior (DOI) and the US Forest Service (USFS) are exhausted, the only way either agency can continue to fund this critical work, is by shifting funds from other in-house programs – sometimes the very programs which would help alleviate future wildfires.
Under this legislation, years in which additional funding for fire fighting is required, the funding request would be treated similarly to those of other natural disasters, such as the budget request mechanisms used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
While this is important for DOI and the National Park Service, it is especially critical for the USFS which had to transfer $600 Million from program budgets to fund fire fighting in fiscal year 2013 alone. While the Forest Service always provides for its fire fighters and their efforts as well as the protection of human lives and property, this can become more cyclical when the funding to support these efforts preclude funding for efforts such as thinning out trees and the clearing of brush and deadfall which would help prevent future wildfires.
As the USFS manages more than 158,000 miles of recreational trails, this is an issue of real concern to the hiking community. Not only does the transfer of funds prevent fire prevention work, but it also keeps the USFS from conducting trail maintenance activity to keep hiking trails open and safe. (According to the 2013 Government Accountability Office, the Forest Service already has a trail maintenance backlog of $314 Million.) The legislation, which would address years with excessive fire suppression activity with this funding mechanism, would allow the Forest Service to use appropriated funding for their intended purposes, including fire prevention as well as trail maintenance and management.
In the effort to achieve a viable funding mechanism that will help prevent and suppress forest fires, protect lives and property, and protect America’s forests and their trails and facilities, American Hiking Society supports the passage of this legislation.