Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today introduced legislation that takes a big step forward in tackling chronic funding shortages for fighting wildfires, and the steep declines in land management funding that result.
The Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act – the FLAME Act -- establishes an account to pay for fighting large, complex wildland fires. The legislation will provide a separate budget for fighting the largest fires, so that adequate funding is available and so that the agencies’ land management functions are not shorted.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, who has shown great leadership on addressing this problem, today introduced companion legislation.
“The costs for fighting wildfires are rising rapidly, and this escalation is eroding other programs and impacting the core mission of our land management agencies, particularly the Forest Service,” Bingaman said. “Wildland fire activities now account for about 50 percent of the Forest Service budget. Both the Forest Service and the Interior Department have had to rob funds from other agency accounts to cover these costs. The FLAME Act will help solve this recurring problem.”
“In recent years, the Forest Service has expended up to $2 billion per year suppressing wildland fires,” Murkowski said. “We can no longer afford to put the service’s non-fire programs at risk to ‘fire borrowing.’ While this bill is not the perfect solution, I believe it’s a step in the right direction. I look forward to working with Chairman Bingaman and others to improve it further before we get to the floor.”
“Fire seasons on public lands are getting longer and more intense – putting American lives and our treasured public lands in harm’s way. Fighting these fires is eroding other non-fire programs and impacting the core mission of the Federal land management agencies – turning our Forest Service into the Fire Service,” said Rahall. “This legislation will help ensure that America’s brave firefighters have the necessary tools to continue putting out fires with minimal damage to life and property.”
Bill cosponsors include Sens. Barbara Boxer, Ron Wyden, Tom Udall, Maria Cantwell, Jon Tester, Tim Johnson and Patty Murray.
The FLAME Act would establish a fund for large, complex emergency wildland fire suppression. Monies for the fund will be appropriated annually. The Federal land management agencies would continue to fund initial attack and other anticipated and predicted wildland fire suppression activities within their annual budgets.
The Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior would declare emergency wildland fire suppression activities eligible for the FLAME Fund. That declaration would be based on an evaluation of the size, severity and threat of individual wildland fires. The FLAME Fund would be available for emergency wildland fire suppression activities on Federal, state, tribal and private land, consistent with existing agreements.
The bill requires the Secretaries to review wildland fire incidents that result in expenses greater than $10 million and submit a report to Congress containing a cohesive wildland fire management strategy. It also requires science-based budget predictions and annual reports on the use of the fund, and authorizes a grant program to encourage communities to reduce fire risks.
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