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Congress Fails to Act on Wildfires

By: 
Frank Sturges, photo USDA

Last Friday, Congress kicked off their five-week summer recess, but not before refusing to approve emergency funds for wildfire suppression. Over 30 large fires are currently blazing across the American West, including the 4,700-acre El Portal Fire in Yosemite National Park, which has already cost over $9 million, and the over 250,000-acre Carlton Complex in Central Washington, the largest in that state's history. Thousands of wildland firefighters are deployed to stop the spread of these wildfires from the U.S. Forest Service, Department of the Interior, and state agencies like Cal Fire.

While the number of acres burning continues to grow, the cost of this summer's fire season is also on the rise. In May, the Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service projected a $470 million budget shortfall, and the administration requested an emergency budget supplemental that would have included $615 million plug that gap in paying for fire costs this year.

However, neither chamber of Congress acted to fund wildfires before heading out of town -- leaving the question of how the Forest Service and Interior will pay for this ongoing work. They will most likely turn to "fire borrowing," or taking money from other agency priorities to pay for wildfire. A report from the Forest Service earlier this summer explains the impact this practice has on cancelling and delaying necessary forest management programs across the country.

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