When the U. S. Forest Service surpasses its budget for wildlands firefighting and dips into non-suppression funding to keep the battle going, it’s called “fire-borrowing.”
And the problem with fire-borrowing is that it uses money budgeted for the agency’s pro-active programs to restore forest health and reduce the chances for catastrophic fires in the first place. Money that isn’t replaced by a grateful Congress.
That is an unproductive way of doing business, the Western Governors’ Association has again pointed out to leaders of Congress and the White House. In fact, it’s a vicious cycle, but one the Forest Service has been given little flexibility to resolve.
Washington, Oregon and California have been particularly hard hit by fire this year, while Colorado has been more fortunate, for a change. More than 2.4 million acres have already burned, with peak fire season weeks remaining in August and September.
“Lack of effective management, past suppression practices, droughts, disease and insect infestations have left Western forests immensely more susceptible to catastrophic fires,” the governors wrote in a letter addressed to congressional leaders.
Fire seasons are extending 60-80 days beyond historic averages, and federal firefighting budgets have not been increased to meet the expanding threat.
Warming in the West is expected to exacerbate fire conditions even further, according to the new National Climate Assessment.
The governors asked that Congress approve more money to improve forest health and fire resiliency in the West, and to stop fire-borrowing funds already approved for that purpose.
“We strongly urge Congress and the Administration to resolve this burgeoning problem for the West without further delay.”
To which we can only add, good luck with that.