Wildfire Funding Critical to Protect and Defend America's Natural Resources


California Conservation Corps

 

Originally published by Nation of Change - 11/19/15

Wildfires are raging in many states around the U.S. This year, over 8.8 million acres burned by mid-September, nearing the number of acres burned during the same timeframe in 2006, one of the worst wildfire seasons on record. 2015 is poised to meet and even surpass that record.

Fighting wildfires is both difficult and expensive. The U.S. Forest Service alone spent over $1.1 billion on fire suppression in 2014. While federal land management agencies expect to spend a certain percentage of their annual budgets on firefighting, that percentage continues to increase as wildfire seasons grow longer.

Due to the effects of climate change, fire seasons are on average 78 days longer than they were in the ‘70s. In 2015, the Forest Service expects to spend 52 per­cent of its budget on fire suppression. In comparison, 16 percent of the budget went to fire suppression in 1995. A new report estimates that nearly 70 percent of the Forest Service’s budget will be devoted to fire suppression by 2025. Wildfires are causing more damage than ever before, yet budgets are not keeping pace.

The current funding mechanism for fighting wildfires forces land management agencies to divert funds that otherwise would support routine maintenance and improvement projects as well as preventative measures that reduce wildfire risk. When more than half of the Forest Service’s budget is spent on wildfire suppression, less than half is available for maintaining habitats and the trails, roads, and bridges that make our national forests environmentally healthy and accessible to the public.

There is a clear solution to this problem:  make federal disaster funding available for wildfire suppression. Congress included $700 million in the Continuing Resolution to repay the Forest Service for funds that were transferred to firefighting, but the system of repaying the land management agencies on an annual basis is inefficient. Congress can fix this by passing the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA): a bi-partisan proposal that would fund wildfire suppression in a similar manner to how the government currently funds the response to hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters.

Passage of the WDFA is now more important than ever as Congress recently failed to act on bipartisan legislation that would reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Since its creation in 1965, LWCF has protected national parks and forests with the royalties from oil and gas drilling, not taxpayer dollars. LWCF helps reduce wildfire fighting costs by protecting water supplies from development and allowing firefighters to manage fire efficiently across public lands.

Further, with the passage of WDFA more of the Forest Service’s budget would be available for routine maintenance and programs like the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC): an initiative that engages youth and returning veterans in public lands maintenance projects, including forest thinning and other activities that mitigate the impact of future wildfires. Utilizing the 21CSC would also help provide job training to America’s next generation of land managers.

America’s parks and public lands provide precious natural resources, but Congress is not doing its part to protect and defend our heritage. Congress needs to pass the WDFA to ensure that the U.S. Forest Service has the funding it needs to fight wildfires, and it needs to reauthorize and fully fund the LWCF to ensure that we are able to continue to maintain and protect our natural resources for future generations.

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The Corps Network Sends Sign-On Letter in Support of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act to Capitol Hill and the Administration

*Versions of this letter were sent to officials in the Obama Administration as well as staff from the Senate Agriculture Committee and the House and Senate Natural Resources Committees. 
 

November 10, 2015


To Whom It May Concern:

On behalf of The Corps Network’s Service and Conservation Corps (Corps) across the country, we write to respectfully request your support for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, H.R. 167 and S. 235. This important legislation will reform how wildfire suppression is funded in order to significantly minimize the harmful practice of transferring funds from critical programs to pay for wildfire suppression. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would fund response to the most disastrous wildfires similar to how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds other disaster response under the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985. Instead of competing with funding for response to other natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes, wildfire disasters would have their own relief mechanism.

The Corps Network’s 100+ Corps are diverse in mission and membership and strive to improve quality of life for our participants and in our communities. From building trails and campgrounds on our nation’s iconic public lands, to responding to natural disasters and wildfire remediation and fighting, Corps provide communities with valuable services, improve lives, and the environment. Increasing disasters such as fires, risk the lives of Corpsmembers as well as interrupt other recreation, maintenance, and economic development activities on public lands.

Wildfire seasons are getting longer and major wildfires are becoming increasingly more costly to suppress. This national problem is causing a crippling burden on the Department of the Interior and the USDA Forest Service’s land management functions as they shift resources to fund suppression activities. Federal wildfire suppression will always be fully funded by the government – even if it comes at the expense of programs that improve forest health and mitigate future wildfires. However, this current ad hoc process of funding wildfire is inefficient and ineffective in delivering on nationwide agency land management priorities set by Congress and virtually assures that overall federal outlays will increase.

We believe a solution to fire funding should: 1) allow access to disaster funding; 2) minimize impacts from transfers; and 3) address the increasing costs of suppression over time. The WDFA, (S. 235, H.R. 167) is a bipartisan proposal that addresses these three items. We encourage you to incorporate WDFA language in the FY2016 appropriations or other related legislative vehicles moving through Congress to ensure this serious budgetary issue is addressed this year.

Additionally, since the Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was not reauthorized in the most recent Continuing Resolution and the fund continues to be used to pay for wildfire suppression, it is also important that take action be taken to fully fund and reauthorize LWCF. Without LWCF, access to our public lands is diminished and proactive forest management provided through LWCF’s Forest Legacy Program is reduced. We cannot afford for conservation programs like LWCF to bear the burden of wildfire suppression and fighting.

We again respectfully urge your support for Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA) language in the FY16 appropriations omnibus or passage through other must-pass legislative vehicles. The WDFA is a critical, important step to ensure the long-term sustainability of our nation’s forests and other public lands and our Corps stand ready to continue helping manage and improve our nation’s important natural resources and great outdoors.

Sincerely,

Mary Ellen Sprenkel
CEO

Co-signed:
The Member Corps of The Corps Network
 

California Crews Dispatched to Wildfires

From the California Conservation Corps

The California Conservation Corps currently has 11 crews -- 167 corpsmembers -- assisting the U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire on fires throughout the state. More crews are expected to be dispatched by the end of the week.

Corpsmembers provide initial attack on the firelines and also help with logistical support at the fire camps.
 

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The California Conservation Corps currently has 11 crews -- 167 corpsmembers -- assisting the U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire on fires throughout the state. More crews are expected to be dispatched by the end of the week.

More Than 400 Corpsmembers On California Wildfires

Corpsmembers on the Bald Fire in the Lassen National Forest.

From the California Conservation Corps

The California Conservation Corps continues its fire response efforts, with 411 corpsmembers -- 31 crews -- assisting Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service throughout the state.

The largest contingent is on the Lodge Fire in Mendocino County.  In Southern California, CCC crews are providing logistical support on the Tecolote Fire in the Angeles National Forest.  Corpsmembers are also working on seven other wildfires. The crews are from 18 CCC locations throughout California and are providing both logistical support and initial attack on the firelines. 

The CCC, one of the state's premier emergency response forces, has provided more than 100,000 hours of fire response work on 45 different fires since July 1. Crews from every CCC center have been called out.