Every fiscal year ends with voting on proposals for the upcoming year’s budget. New administration means new plans and proposals. Here, we will give a brief overview of the Federal wildland suppression budget for fiscal year 2018 and what it means for wildland firefighting efforts this fire season.
Here is an excerpt from America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again, in which President Trump plans to make a 21 percent cut in the budget to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), but:
“Fully funds wildland fire preparedness and suppression activities at $2.4 billion, 100 percent of the 10-year average for suppression operations, to ensure the resources necessary to protect life and property. Reduces funding for lower priority activities in the National Forest System, such as major new Federal land acquisition; instead the Budget focuses on maintaining existing forests and grasslands.”
This sounds overwhelmingly positive and recognizes the need to be prepared to respond to devastating wildfires promptly and efficiently. However, it is wildly misguided. In recent years, the Forest Service’s budget for wildfire suppression efforts has been increasingly inadequate as wildfire season starts earlier and lasts longer, burning more acreage. The Forest Service routinely exhausts its budget for wildland fire fighting before the wildfire season concludes, forcing funds to be pulled from other programs. When there are no other programs to pull from because of budget cuts, this means that the programs will be left unfunded and unable to fight the fires near the end of the fiscal year. For fiscal year 18, funds are already being used to fight the Thomas Fire threatening Ventura, California, long before the wildfire season is set to begin, or the Federal budget finalized.
One thing that does not change is that fact that the cost of fighting fires has steadily increased every year, with no indication of decreasing any time soon. Although the budget states that wildland firefighting efforts will be covered 100 percent, a large amount of funding is being cut in various other programs within Forest Service.
The Forest Service will see a 5.7 percent reduction in staffing department wide, however, wildland fire personnel will remain the same. The Department of the Interior, on the other hand, will see a reduction in full-time employees from 3,586 to 3,401 which is a five percent decrease. These decreases will be seen in the discretionary department-wide Wildland Fire Management program, which will see an overall funding decrease of 12 percent. Part of the budget cuts will include the Joint Fire Science Program and Forest Service research spending. This means that spending will only be alloted for fighting the fires, not prevention or researching effects or solutions. The Wildland Fire Management program is responsible for monitoring and inventorying forests for burn potential and reducing wildfires through controlled burns, thinning of forests, and removal of high fire risks. Reduced funding will not allow for this, which means natural burn fuels will increase, unchecked. Lack of current management added to previous fire suppression after-effects produce dangerous accumulations of natural fuels, causing hotter and more intense fires. This will proportionately increase the cost of wildland firefighting efforts.
The USDA Forest Service will have to rely more heavily on donations, state and local fire departments, volunteer firefighters, and individual homeowners to take a more proactive approach to preventing the spread of fire on their own property. If you are a wildland firefighter or are interested in helping the effort and need the gear to be outfitted, you can trust the expert suppliers at The Supply Cache, where 100 percent of Wildland Firefighter Foundation item sales are donated to the WFF, and 25 percent of Students of Fire goes to Colorado State University’s Paul Gleason Scholarship Fund. Come shop with us today!