Trump Leaves Wildfire Control Underfunded

The Whitetail Fire in Custer State Park this month is one tiny flare-up in a long-term increase in wildfire driven by climate change.

The Trump budget not only ends programs to study and combat climate change but also fails to provide more resources to fight wildfires. The budget blueprint sticks with the status quo, saying the President’s plan “Budgets responsibly for wildland fire suppression expenses. The Budget would directly provide the full 10-year rolling average of suppression expenditures.”

The Idaho Falls Post Register explains the status quo isn’t working for wildland fire suppression:

That’s not out of line with prior budgets, but it doesn’t address a problem that Western lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been trying to solve in recent years: “fire borrowing.”

It’s precisely the use of the 10-year average that has been criticized by Western governors, congressmen and the U.S. Forest Service for causing fire borrowing — meaning that the Forest Service runs out of money in its fire budget and has to take money out of other forest management activities to pay for firefighting. That in turn has meant the agency has been able to devote fewer resources to, among other things, fire prevention.

A 2015 Forest Service report warned that the agency was at a “tipping point,” and the excess costs of fighting recent mega-fires were crippling its ability to manage forests.

“This trend of rising fire suppression costs is predicted to continue as long as the 10-year average serves as the funding model and presents a significant threat to the viability of all other services that support our national forests,” the report concluded [Bryan Clark and Jeff Robinson, “Trump’s Budget Could Impact Eastern Idaho,” Idaho Falls Post Register, 2017.03.16].

There’s a bipartisan solution to wildland fire funding—provide more funding!—but the Trump budget ignores that solution and cuts other funds that could help:

The most popular solution — called a “cap adjustment” — favored by many including Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, is to set aside a bit under $900 million that the Forest Service could access in years where fire costs are especially high, leaving untouched at least some funds meant for forest management. The proposal has sparked several bipartisan bills with a growing list of supporters, and Barack Obama included it in his 2016 proposed budget.

But the cap adjustment isn’t in Trump’s budget outline. And with a 21 percent cut proposed for the Department of Agriculture, of which the Forest Service is a sub-agency, and a 12 percent cut proposed for the Department of the Interior, of which the Bureau of Land Management is a sub-agency, there would be less non-fire budget to borrow from [Clark and Robinson, 2016.03.16].

Senator John Thune has griped and moaned about the quality of federal wildfire efforts. Perhaps it’s time he put his money where his mouth is and propose some practical amendments to the budget to help the Forest Service fight fires and keep South Dakota from burning up.

6 Responses to Trump Leaves Wildfire Control Underfunded

  1. Better not make a big deal out of it… Trump’s solution will be to cut down all the trees..

  2. Darin Larson

    Get ready for the Trump Slump as he cuts important programs that affect our state such as Ag programs, forest service funding, flight services and other programs. Add in the negatives to international tourism from Trump pulling the welcome mat out from under foreigners and the trade wars that he seems destined to wage and we might be looking at a South Dakota economic recession in the years ahead. It will take a little while to undo the economic progress that has been made, so make your preparations. But fear not, we’ll always have the hot muzzles of our AR-14’s to keep us warm!

  3. Meh, climate change may or may not play a small role. The far larger role is the forest mismanagement practiced by the agency itself. Forest management is not rocket science. Four active management methods are available. Harvest and thinning, fire, insects, and disease. [The NPS & wilderness ‘preservation’ is not an active management; rather in small pockets it allows nature to act without the influence from man.] Present day forest managers ignore the lesson of Aldo Leopold that one may only stockpile biomass for so long until nature votes. Nature’s forest voting is through fire, insects, or disease to thin the forest to a more sustainable population for the available nutrients and water. One does not need a forestry degree or training to see that most forest management is out of synch – merely view photographs from the settlement era, read accounts of the small streams flowing year-round, even during droughts. Millions of excess trees choke the forest, provide kindling, feeding troughs for insects, beds for diseases, and provide millions of rooted straws sucking the ground water that would flow in streams. It’s well documented that the best managed public forests in the nation are tribally managed forests.

    As to wildfire; have you heard of insurance? The only justifiable reason to put a life in danger is the likelihood of saving the life of another. Never for a “forest” or a “structure”.

    Darin is exactly right. A state that has 36% of its budget (far more with secondary impacts) tied to federal spending, voted against its interest. And it should receive what it voted for. Voting has consequences. It’s long past the time to face the music.

  4. The Whitetail Fire in Custer “State” Park this month. Custer “State” Park. “State”: an organized community living under a single political structure and government, sovereign or constituent.

    The people of the “state” of South Dakota are responsible for the cost of fighting the fire. Not residents of other “states”.

  5. I cannot find the words to adequately express my disgust and dismay with the willful ignorance of climate change deniers.

  6. And, OldSarg, when a fire starts on federal land and isn’t controlled because Trump let the federal firefighting budget dry up, or when a fire on state park land jumps the fence into federal land and Trump can’t help put it out, “state” and “federal” won’t mean a hill of beans to the folks in the path of the fire.