The Agriculture and Interior departments have jointly asked Congress to change the way the government funds firefighting on federal lands, in order to better coordinate their activities. OMB also joined the letter.
According to the agencies, more than half of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service budget now goes to fighting wildfires, compared with just 16 percent in 1995. This year’s budget already has been exhausted, it said, forcing USDA to transfer funds away from other projects such as forest restoration.
The Forest Service has had to make such transfers in seven of the last 14 years, while in six of the last 14 years, Interior similarly had to transfer funds among its accounts to pay for firefighting.
The letter proposes that instead, the agencies be given access to a discretionary disaster cap adjustment after the amount spent on fire suppression exceeds 70 percent of the 10-year average. That would allow them to invest additional resources in forest and rangeland restoration and management, including activities that would reduce the risk of fires.