Why Wildfire Funding Is Such A Hot Topic
Wildfires have become more frequent and more intense in recent years. And while wildfires may seem like a natural disaster, the money to fight them doesn’t come from federal disaster funding. It comes, in part, out of the Forest Service’s budget.
Reacting to fires has eaten away at money the agency earmarks for other things, like fire prevention. This year, fire suppression took up more than half of the Forest Service’s budget.
The head of the Forest Service, Tony Tooke, is hoping Congress will change the way it pays for fighting wildfires.
“These large megafires that are like natural disasters ... if they could be funded like that, then it frees up our resources out of our regular appropriations so that we can increase our management of forests to prevent fires."
There are at least two bills in Congress that try to address the problem.
“There’s a lot of momentum,” Tooke said in an interview during the Western Governors' Association meeting in Phoenix. “I’m optimistic that we’ll actually see a fire funding fix.”
U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake recently praised one of the bills, a Senate appropriations bill. That measure would provide more money, but wouldn’t treat wildfire funding like other natural disasters.