Tuesday, January 12, 2016

USDA Ends Fire Borrowing

Fires in Alaska, 2015. Photo: USFS
On January 6, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack discussed his December announcement that the agency would halt the practice of fire-borrowing, or re-appropriating Forest Service funds mid-year to wildfire suppression. The move ramps up the years long tug-of-war between the Obama administration and Congress to find an appropriate solution to the growing issue of wildfire funding.

In mid-December, Vilsack wrote to several members of Congress to announce that the agency will no longer authorize fire transfers. “If the amount Congress appropriated in FY 2016 is not sufficient to cover fire suppression costs,” the letter states, “Congress will need to appropriate additional funding on an emergency basis.”
Thanks to fire borrowing, the Forest Service is caught in a catch-22. Funds that would improve the health of forests are re-appropriated to deal with wildfires mid-year.  In 2015, more than 60 percent of the Forest Service’s budget was consumed by wildfire funding – up from 16 percent in 1995.  The Forest Service estimates that they are projected to spend 67 percent of agency funds on fire suppression and related activities by 2025.  Read more here. 

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