Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson and Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader today reintroduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA), legislation which would fix the current budgeting process for wildfires.
In recent years, Congress has budgeted for wildfire suppression by appropriating money according to the average cost for wildfires over the past ten years, known as the “ten-year average.” When costs exceed an agency’s fire budget, that agency is forced to borrow from non-fire accounts to pay for fire suppression. This practice is known as “fire-borrowing.” Robbing these accounts means that the Forest Service and other land management agencies have fewer resources available for forest management activities like hazardous fuels reduction that would prevent catastrophic fires. As a result, fires get worse and wildfire suppression costs end up devouring the agency’s budget.
“I have seen the cost of wildfires in Idaho and the impacts it has on our forests when funds that are planned for forest management are used to fight wildfires,” said Simpson. “When more than fifty percent of an agency’s budget is unpredictable, you are creating a recipe for the unsustainable fire-borrowing we see today that devastates our forests and costs taxpayers. I am pleased to reintroduce the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act with Congressman Schrader again this Congress. It is time to acknowledge that catastrophic wildfires should be funded like natural disasters so we can ensure that land managers have the resources they need to properly manage our forests.”
“Simply put, the current system is broken,” said Schrader. “Because we do no project management to help protect our forests, we end up paying much more to fight costly carbon producing wildfires that again devastate our ability to do the critical forest management on our public lands in the first place. These fires should be treated the same as any other natural disaster. Budgeting to address the mismanagement of our forests would free up financial resources. Our bill will work to fix this root problem by reducing fuel loads, improving forest health, save taxpayers money, and provide jobs in our struggling rural communities.”
Fire borrowing was intended to be an extraordinary measure to help in bad wildfire years. However, this practice has become the norm and not the exception, which has caused wildfire costs to increase. According to the Forest Service, wildfire costs were 56% of their total budget in 2016. In 1995, the Forest Service spent only 16% of their total budget fighting wildfires. By 2025, that number could increase to nearly 70% if nothing is done to fix the budgeting process.
The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would end fire borrowing by treating wildfires like other natural disasters when wildfire suppression costs are exhausted. Most importantly, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would protect land management programs by protecting the budget from the increasing ten-year average. Wildfire suppression would still be funded through the normal budgeting and appropriations process, but when the Forest Service exceeds its annual wildfire suppression budget, the agency would be able to fund wildfire fighting costs like other natural disasters. This allows the Forest Service and other land management agencies to maintain resources in the prevention accounts they are intended for, ultimately preventing catastrophic wildfires from growing in size and cost.
The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act was also introduced in the 113th and 114th Congress. The legislation received 150 bipartisan cosponsors and the support of more than 300 organizations. Original cosponsors for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017 include Representatives Mark Amodei, Suzanne Bonamici, Ken Calvert, Jim Costa, Peter DeFazio, Marcy Kaptur, Derek Kilmer, Raul Labrador, Betty McCollum, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, Dan Newhouse, Jared Polis, Kysrten Sinema, Steve Stivers, Scott Tipton, and Greg Walden.