Fighting Forest Fires with Federal Disaster Legislation

With this season looking to be an active one, a recent proposal has put forth legislation that some forest fires be treated as federal disasters, which would allow federal agencies to tap into a disaster fund, according to an article by The Associated Press. By doing so, rather than diverting money toward firefighting from other program during busy years, the intent is to improve efforts to thin dead trees and remove thick underbrush which can support and sustain these fires, and reduce the risk and frequency of fires in future years.

Robert Bonnie, who oversees natural resource issues at the Agriculture Department, which houses the Forest Service, told the Associated Press, "You can give the Forest Service new authority, but unless you solve the budget problem, the Forest Service lacks the resources to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration," and has talked of treating fires like the California "Rim Fire" as federal disasters regardless of location.

Currently, the government proposal for firefighting is to set the budget based on the average costs of the 10 previous years, with 70 per cent coming from the administration, and the remainder from Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster fund to cover the cost of fighting other fires, with the intent to allow the certainty of funding to allow federal agencies to direct more resources toward preventative actions, according to the article. The legislation proposed by House Republicans would instead let agencies tap into a disaster fund only after they've exhausted that year's firefighting budget, for the specific purpose of putting out fires.