The cost of fighting this year’s wildfires has surpassed $2.4 billion nationwide, far more than Congress had appropriated to the U.S. Forest Service for fighting fire. And this year isn’t unique — fire suppression needs have been outstripping supply as the population grows, climate changes, and funding doesn’t keep pace.
To come up with the necessary funds to protect lives and property when emergency aid is needed most, the Forest Service is forced to "borrow" money from other critical programs in its budget — programs that support forest health, recreation and watershed restoration.
Fire and the Forest
Click here to learn more about the history of wildfire in the United States and why fire is important for forest health.
This practice of “fire borrowing” creates a vicious cycle: When money is "borrowed" from regular forest-health accounts to fight wildfires, less is left for forest resilience measures, such as mechanical thinning or prescribed burning. When appropriate thinning and prescribed burns don’t happen, the risk of “megafires” increases. When megafires happen, money must again be borrowed from forest-health accounts to fight them. And the cycle continues.
This problem can be fixed. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA) would allow the Forest Service to access disaster funding rather than having to "borrow" from its regular forest health accounts to fight wildfire. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle across the country support WDFA, and all of Washington’s representatives in Congress are co-sponsors of the bill.
Congress has been considering this legislation for the past four years. Now is the time to get the job done and bring this common-sense legislation over the finish line. It’s an easy win from an economic standpoint: It’s much cheaper to treat forests for resilience to fire than to fight wildfires once they’ve started. And it’s crucial: The Forest Service estimates that half the acreage it manages nationwide needs treatment to reduce wildfire risk and restore forest health.
With the good work being done at the state level already, now is the time for Congress to pass WDFA. Please take a moment to thank your representatives for their leadership and urge them to make this bill a law.