Wildfire Costs Show Need to Review, Revise Budgets

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With a particularly destructive wildfire season this year, the U.S. Forest Service is struggling with the cost of firefighting operations — and warning Congress of even more difficult times ahead.

“In 1995, fire made up 16 percent of the Forest Service’s annual appropriated budget — this year, for the first time, more than 50 percent of the Forest Service’s annual budget will be dedicated to wildfire,” the agency says in a recent report.

Climate change has led to fire seasons that average 78 days longer than in 1970, the report says. Another factor: increasing development in fire-prone areas.

The agency says higher spending on fire operations has depleted funds for its other work, including research, the protection of watersheds and cultural resources — and even projects that reduce the threat of future fires.

Lawmakers must determine whether such funding shifts are reasonable or whether additional funding to deal with wildfires may be needed.

In any case, the situation provides a good example of the need for lawmakers to carefully consider changing circumstances and shifting demands on federal agencies. Unfortunately, that important legislative work can be neglected when the regular budget process breaks down and final spending plans are thrown together in a last-minute rush.

External links:
The Rising Cost of Wildfire Operations: Effects on the Forest Service’s Non-Fire Work (Forest Service)
Drought, Fires on Agenda When Congress Returns (Arizona Republic)

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