RCRC continues to advocate for a common sense approach toward reducing the effects and severity of wildfires that have plagued California over the past decade. Concurrently, wildfires continue to threaten the state due to the lack of active management on lands managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS) – nearly 16 million acres in our member counties alone.
Twenty years ago, the USFS was spending approximately 15 percent of its total budget on firefighting. Currently, the USFS spends more than 50 percent of its budget on suppression efforts. In the past two decades, the USFS has been forced to shift away from fire prevention and forest health activities to focus more and more of their limited resources on fire suppression. Ultimately, this system has created a large backlog of needed prevention and forest health projects that have gone, and continue to go, unfunded.
A federal effort needs to be made to change the way forest management is funded. A system needs to be created in which wildfire disaster response is funded in a way similar to that of other natural disasters, such as hurricanes and floods. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds the response to those types of disasters out of a fund that is separate and apart from the costs of any preventative actions, and separate from any post-disaster clean up or mitigation of future disasters. Wildfires, however, have never been funded in this two-part way, leading to “fire borrowing,” or the system by which prevention and clean up funds are swept into funding the response to the disaster rather than used towards prevention efforts and cleanup. Since there is currently no appetite to re-open the Stafford Act, the law which governs the two-part approach for other disasters, a new system based in part on the Stafford Act is being contemplated by Congress for addressing wildfire funding.
A number of current federal legislative measures contain provisions of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA), a continuation of an effort started in 2013. The WDFA seeks to end the practice of “fire borrowing” by treating catastrophic wildfires like other natural disasters. Under the WDFA, the actual disaster response for catastrophe-level wildfire events would be issued from a different funding source than the bottom line USFS budget from which prevention and forest management projects are funded. Additionally, post-disaster mitigation funding could be utilized for future fire prevention and forest health activities.
RCRC continues to actively advocate in support of the WDFA and similar federal efforts that seek to reform wildfire budgeting and forest management regulations.
Staff: Staci Heaton