August 20, 2014
SAN DIEGO, CA – Today, Congressman Scott Peters (CA-52) highlighted the new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) demonstrating the increasingly serious impact that wildfires, and a lack of funding for prevention, are having on the federal budget and communities across the country.
“Today’s report further demonstrates the urgent need for a solution that funds firefighting without stealing from prevention, a need that is more urgent as wildfire seasons are getting longer,” Rep. Peters said. “With wildfires raging across the west, burning thousands of acres in Northern California right now, it is time for a real solution that ends the foolish cycle of stealing funds from prevention to pay for response.”
Peters continued, “There is a truly bipartisan approach that I have pushed, supported by President Obama, which would pass the House if it were given a vote. Communities like mine in San Diego shouldn’t have to suffer from Washington’s dysfunction.”
The report shows that as the number of wildfires, and the costs to fight them, have grown substantially over the past twenty years from 16 percent of the Forest Service’s budget in 1995 to 42 percent today, the Forest Service has been forced to cut back substantially on other necessary programs. Those cuts have impacted maintenance (cut by 2/3 since 2001), support for recreational wilderness activities (cut by 13 percent), and wildlife and fisheries habitat management (cut by 17 percent).
“Climate change, drought, fuel buildup and insects and disease are increasing the severity of catastrophic wildfire in America’s forests,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack said about the report. “In order to protect the public, the portion of the Forest Service budget dedicated to combatting fire has drastically increased from what it was 20 years ago. This has led to substantial cuts in other areas of the Forest Service budget, including efforts to keep forests healthy, reduce fire risk, and strengthen local economies.”
“Bipartisan proposals to fund catastrophic fire like other natural disasters could help ensure that efforts to make forests more healthy and resilient and support local tourism economies aren’t impacted as significantly as they have been in recent years,” Secretary Vilsack continued. “These proposals don’t increase the deficit, they just budget smarter by allowing existing natural disaster funding to be used in cases of catastrophic wildfire.”
The USDA’s report can be read HERE.
Last month, Congressman Peters led his colleagues in an effort to force a vote on H.R. 3992, the “Wildfire Disaster Funding Act,” bipartisan legislation with 71 Democratic supporters and 60 Republican supporters, which would allow firefighting agencies like the Forest Service to access natural disaster contingency funds when fighting catastrophic fires instead of taking from internal program funds. Rep. Peters’ petition to force a vote on the legislation currently has 196 signatories.