The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would fund emergency wildfires like other emergencies, ensuring that forest and conservation programs are not raided when suppression funds are depleted. This would bring up-front funding certainty for fire fighters and stability for forest health enhancement activities.
Wildfires are a part of nature. They are powerful change agents that shape lands and waters. The specific pattern of fire, including how frequently it burns and how hot it burns, helps dictate the types of plants and animals found in various landscapes.
However, wildfires are behaving differently than they have throughout history, primarily as a result of human actions. In many places, several factors have increased the frequency and intensity of wildfires across America’s forests, including drought, increased populations in the wildland-urban interface and a build-up of hazardous fuel. These challenges, coupled with flat budgets, have resulted in critical challenges for the USDA Forest Service (USFS) and Department of the Interior’s (DOI):
Emergency wildfire suppression is currently not funded like other natural disasters; it is funded through USFS and DOI annual budgets.
- Fire suppression costs have exceeded appropriations almost every year since 1990.
- Fire spending made up 13 percent of the FY1991USFS budget, increasing to over 40 percent in recent years.
- USFS and DOI have been forced to borrow money to cover fire suppression shortfalls eight times since 2000.
- In just the last two years, more than $1 billion were transferred from USFS and DOI forest programs to cover fire suppression shortfalls.
These budget shortfalls and the practice of transferring are crippling the ability of agencies to manage forests effectively for people, water and wildlife, including projects that help reduce megafire risk and future wildfire suppression costs.
The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act will resolve this inefficiency and reduce the devastating impacts that transfers have had on people, water and wildlife.
What the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act Will Do
For the first time, the bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA), S. 1875 and H.R. 3992, would develop a wildfire emergency funding process for the USFS and DOI that would be similar to those used for other natural disaster emergencies. Currently, no other entities within the federal system are forced to fund disaster response within their discretionary budgets.
Under WDFA, USFS and DOI wildfire suppression would be funded through a budget cap adjustment similar to that currently used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for other natural disasters under the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985. The regular appropriations process would continue to fund 70 percent of the ten-year average for suppression.
WDFA would require the USFS and DOI to make two wildfire suppression requests for every fiscal year:
- Under the normal annual budget process, 70 percent of the 10-year average for “predictable” wildfire suppression; and
- Through a budget cap adjustment, a level of request for “extraordinary” wildfire suppression beyond the annual budget request, not to exceed $2.689 billion WDFA’s approach would significantly reduce the need to transfer funds from non-suppression accounts when wildfire suppression costs are expanded prior to the end of a fiscal year.
This approach would create a stable budget that will allow agencies to perform activities that reduce risk of fires to communities. This has become increasingly important, as 32 percent of homes in the U.S. are located in areas prone to fire. With WDFA enacted, investments can be made into restoration activities that help improve the safety of community and the firefighters who are made responsible for suppressing emergency fires.
Who Supports the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act?
A diverse group of organizations support WDFA, including conservation, sportsmen, timber, tribal, recreation among many more - inquire about the WDFA support letter signed by 160 groups.