Chief Tidwell shares budget priorities for USFS in House testimony
WASHINGTON-In testimony today before the House Interior Appropriations Committee, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell offered his unwavering support to Congress for their efforts to find a long-term solution that addresses the growing problem of paying for catastrophic wildfires. Funding has not kept pace with the cost of fighting wildfire.
“Our primary budget priority remains finding a way to fund growing fire suppression costs without further eroding resources for restoration, water, recreation and other management priorities, and without the need for mid-season transfers,” said Tidwell. “The year 2015 was a record year in terms of acres burned and dollars spent. Based on the 10-year average, historically used to calculate fire suppression funding, the cost for fighting fire increased by $237 million from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2017. In a constrained budget, no agency can absorb this level of increase in costs.”
In fiscal year 2016, however, Congress approved a single-year funding boost for the agency’s fire suppression budget--beyond the historical formula used for calculating funds. But there is no long-term solution to the funding challenge. This includes both the transfer of funds from other programs to pay for firefighting and the rising costs for fire suppression, which erodes the agency’s annual budget for other land stewardship purposes. The U.S. Forest Service is the only federal government agency that is required to fund its emergency management efforts through its regular appropriated discretionary budget.
Meanwhile, the President’s proposed overall budget for discretionary funding for the Forest Service totaled $4.9 billion for Fiscal Year 2017. That is $787 million less than the FY 2016 enacted level and reflects strategic investments to reduce wildfire threats to communities and maintain forest restoration investments.
Chief Tidwell also stated, “Our budget priorities highlight the need to strengthen cooperation, collaboration and public/private partnerships that leverage our investments to reach shared goals.”
Other key investments to deliver benefits to the public include: landscape scale restoration - with an increase of $9.5 million above the FY 2016 enacted level to fund about 20 more innovative, cross-boundary projects that target high-priority areas; recreation, heritage and wilderness - with an increase of $2.2 million above the FY 2016 enacted level that will modernize the recreation special uses program, expand access to the National Forest System, and increase the capacity of community service and volunteer programs; facilities - to maintain developed recreation sites and fire, administrative, and other facilities; and forest health management - to address forest health on both federal and cooperative lands by treating 644,000 acres with mechanical, prescribed fire or other tools.