Guest post by Norma Duffy.
Ms. Duffy is lifelong resident of Beaverhead County, a businesswoman, farmer, public advocate, and single mother who has no tolerance for the bad politics-as-usual, interfering with our future as Montanans. Follow her on Twitter @
UPDATE: as of 8/16/2105 at 4:00 pm
Gov. Steve Bullock issued an executive order Sunday declaring a fire emergency for the state of Montana.
The declaration allows Bullock to mobilize more state resources and the Montana National Guard for firefighting, and to draw funds to meet the costs associated with additional resources. The declaration comes after a meeting between Bullock, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation director John Tubbs and Montana state forester Bob Harrington, the governor’s office said in a news release.
President Theodore Roosevelt established the U.S. Forest service to manage America’s 193,000,000 million acres of national forests and grasslands for the benefit of all Americans. To date that mission is falling apart, being consumed by ever increasing costs of fighting fires. The Forest Service of yesterday is only a Wildfire Service today. Why isn’t Congress doing something about this?
So Beaverhead County’s luck finally wore out, Wildfires caused by lightning strikes started burning…. Dillon Dispatch Center Manager, David Mosher, reports the center is currently managing 14 fires, of which only 10 are staffed.
“In the Northern Rockies Geographic Area, there are 58 new fires, of which 15 are considered large incidents. In order to help put the local fire situation into perspective” He says, “a Planning Level 5 was just announced nationally. A significant amount of initial and extended attack and large fire activity has occurred over the past several days as a result of lightning storms that have intensified local and geographic response. Given the continuing hot and dry weather and the increase in fire activity in the western US, the decision to move to Preparedness Level 5 depicts the complexity that fire managers are encountering to assure adequate firefighting resources are available for protection of life, property and our nation’s natural resources.”
In 1995, fire made up 16% of the forest service’s annual appropriated budget. This year for the first time, more than 50% of the Forest Service’s annual budget will be dedicated to fire.
With the shift in monied resources, there has also been a corresponding shift in staff, with a 39% reduction in all non fire personnel. As wildfires have become more frequent and severe, the cost of battling them has increased. In 1985 wildfire suppression cost the U.S. Forest service approximately $240,000,000. In 2012 that number was $ 1.7 billion
Last years fires burned (between 1/1/14 – 8/14/14) 2,570,275 acres. This year (between 1/1/14 – 8/14/14) has now burned 6,509,392 acres. That’s an area about the size of the state of New Jersey and is about 2 million acres above average for this time of year.
Left unchecked, the share of the budget devoted to fire by the Forest Service in 2025 will exceed 67% equating to reductions of nearly $700,000,000 from non fire programs compared to today’s funding levels. That means in just 10 years, 2 out of every $3.00 the forest service gets from Congress will be spent on fire programs solely. That is extremely troubling and has to stop.
As more and more of the forest service’s resources are spent each year to provide the firefighters, aircraft, and other assets necessary to protect lives, property, and natural resources from catastrophic fires, fewer meager funds and resources will be able to support other agency work, including the very programs and restoration projects that reduce a fire threat in the first place.
So what does this mean?
Restoration work that could help prevent catastrophic fires, protect watersheds and our drinking water along with other cultural resources go up in flame. Upkeep of programs and infrastructure that support thousands of recreation jobs and billions of dollars in economic growth in rural communities based on tourism, and job necessity virtually go up in smoke. Any support for a range of multiple uses of property of the U.S. Forest service by Americans disappears, such as hunting, fishing, hiking and camping… And if rangeland is burnt away how do you Montana cattlemen propose to feed your herds in the summer? Other benefits and ecosystem services we need, as well as research, technical assistance, and other programs of value to the American public vanish….
America’s biodiversity is at a tipping point because of climate change. Fire seasons are now on average 78 days longer than in 1970. Fires have burned twice as many acres as three decades ago.
46 million homes and 70,000 communities are at risk from wildfire in the USA. The six worst fire seasons since 1960 have all occurred since 2000, according to the report. Since 2000, many western states have experienced the largest wildfires in their histories.
What can we do as Americans to help contain the threat. How do we keep Montana jobs and business built on tourism safe from Wildfires? Get after your Senators and Legislator to fund fires like the disasters they are! Some in congress have been trying to get a bill passed called the “Wildfire Disaster Funding Act” but a lot of republicans don’t believe in “Climate Change”, and a lot of them don’t like government of any kind, and a few Democrats don’t like the fact a republican wrote this bill, so it doesn’t appear it will move forward.
The bill is languishing, tabled and possibly won’t be revived…. And it was written by Representative Michael K. Simpson of Idaho. Its not perfect but it is a start. Even President Obama has tried to put provisions like the Wildfire Disaster Act into the new budget. The reality is a conservative congress is more interested in extinguishing Gaydom, and torching to the ground “Planned Parenthood”…. making it somewhat bleak for wildfires funding anytime soon.
The “Wildfire Disaster Act’s” proposed legislation would finally treat America’s most catastrophic wildfires in the way it treats other natural disasters, meaning that funds required to fight severe fires would be drawn from a federal emergency account rather than borrowed from other Forest Service programs. We need this bill now and a Majority of Republicans plus some Democrats are playing politics with it in Washington D.C. ???
Although a lot of factors have contributed to an increase in fires, one of the bigger reasons for the growing number of fires has to do with the Congress’s refusal to adapt new policies to a growing wildfire threat in our country….
The government seems to comprehend that you can’t budget for a hurricane, a flood, or devastating earthquakes. The government pays for those disasters out of a special account funded specifically for those kinds of threats. The Government uses the armed services to help as well. Putting boots on the ground to protect and serve in those disasters…. But with wildfires, it treats them like any other government expenditure??? Wildfires ain’t paperclips folks.
An annual amount is budgeted to fight Wildfires by congress which is woefully short, with little more than an estimate of what the fire season mi actually bring… and the armed services are not called in at all, even though it becomes an emergency to our states. Oh sure there are exceptions and they will send some kinds of equipment, but only if the forest Services seem stretched thin…. which it has been for the last 15 years.
We have currently 1.4 million armed service members. Do we continue to fight for “Oligarch Oil wars” elsewhere in the world or do we spend our money where it belongs, right here in the United States to battle wildfires and protect our resources at home….
In other words, Money directed to the USFS and Department of the Interior has become an archaic way to do business for the people of the USA and it needs to change, as well as America’s budgeting.
If ISIL was burning our forests down, would we not bring everything to bear to fight it???
Do we continue to allow congress a free pass from reality because the GOP does not believe in climate change? Do we continue to allow the Forest Service to siphon money from their other accounts to pay for battling fires? Allow the Forest Service to cut back on programs expressly aimed at reducing fire risk? Millions have been diverted from hazardous fuels reduction, forest health management and vegetation management, all of which is likely to mean bigger fires in the future…. The time to act is now as climate change deepens. Its time to make your congressman liable for protecting our way of life.