Members of the Western Governors’ Association are asking congressional leaders to better fund wildfire suppression efforts, noting that the lack of a budget is hurting preventive efforts that could help keep the blazes under control.
It’s a situation akin to turning your research and development budget into a rainy-day fund every single year—and that’s making governors in the Western U.S. uncomfortable.
Over the last few years, the U.S. Forest Service has used funds intended to suppress potential wildfires before they happen to help stop them after the fact. It’s a phenomenon that even has its own name—”fire borrowing”—and it’s becoming more common because the funding to help deal with wildfires hasn’t increased along with the fires.
The Western Governors’ Association, a group representing 22 governors, has continually pushed for a fix to this problem, saying the lack of preventive efforts has worsened the wildfires significantly, making the seasons last more than two months longer than normal over the past decade.
This month, the governors sent a letter to the top members of Congress—House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). (Reid and Pelosi are from states particularly susceptible to wildfires.)
“Lack of effective management, past suppression practices, droughts, and disease and insect infestations have left Western forests immensely more susceptible to catastrophic fires,” the association argued in the letter [PDF]. “Federal wildfire budgets have not increased to meet this escalating fire trend and now federal agencies must use funds from non-suppression accounts to pay for firefighting.”
On its blog, the association notes a recent study showing that the lack of funding has been so severe that the U.S. Forest Service has had to cut its budget in other areas to make room for the increasing financial costs of suppressing forest fires.
Wildfires At a Peak
The request comes at a time when some Western states are seeing record blazes. And California, Oregon, and Washington have each had to declare states of emergency after a major drought set the stage for near-record wildfires.
And with the season traditionally stretching from May to October, some of the states could set wildfire damage records.
“So far this year, over a million acres have burned in Oregon and Washington,” Carol Connolly of the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center told Reuters. “Our record year was 2012 with 1.2 million acres. So we are on track to break a record.”