Democratic News

By a unanimous voice vote, the Senate today accepted a Bingaman-Domenici amendment (SA-4915) to the Defense Appropriations Act which will provide $275 million in additional funding to the Federal agencies that fight wildfires.
 
Hot, dry weather across much of the West has led to numerous fires across the region.  Nearly 8.5 million acres have already burned -- nearly double the 10-year average.  The predictable result has been higher-than-expected-spending for firefighting.  The Forest Service and Department of the Interior are about to exhaust their appropriations for fire suppression and they still have a busy month left in this fiscal year.
 
"We shouldn’t be shortchanging communities across the West by emptying out other Forest Service accounts to pay for firefighting,” Bingaman said.  “The extra money in this amendment will allow us to keep fighting wildfires in the coming weeks without delaying or cancelling literally hundreds of projects that will help prevent wildfires in the future.”
 
“I’m pleased that this bill contains $275 million in emergency money to pay for projected shortfalls in fire suppression accounts.  The need for this money does not stem from mismanagement, but rather an unusual strain on BLM and Forest Service funds due to the devastation in the Gulf region.  While this is not strictly a defense-related measure, it is imperative that this funding be provided right away, and this bill will be the one passing Congress the soonest,” Domenici added.
 
In the past, shortfalls in the Forest Service’s firefighting budget have forced the delay or cancellation of hundreds of activities and projects critical the rural West, including fuels reduction projects, noxious weed treatments, reforestation, permit processing, etc.  The agencies also have diverted funding for grants to universities and other parties, which has led to a loss of agency partnership credibility and affected private sector employment. 
 
The Forest Service will run out of appropriated funds for fire suppression any day now, and its models project that it will fall over $150 million short by the end of this month.  The Department of the Interior will likely run out of funds later next week and projects that it will fall more than $90 million short of what is needed for fire suppression.