Friday, March 27, 2009

US Forest Service firefighting budgets revamped

Summit Daily News (California): The U.S. Forest Service may be able to stop raiding recreation budgets to pay for firefighting if House Bill 1404 makes it to President Barack Obama’s desk. The Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act was passed by the U.S. House Thursday by a vote of 412-3 and now heads for the Senate. The measure requires federal officials to update national fire-management plans every five years and maintain a separate budget for firefighting.

In recent years, firefighting has eaten up to half the agency’s budget annually. As those costs have soared, staffing in other areas has dropped. Resource specialist positions for basic inventory and monitoring have been cut by 44 percent. Staff for servicing the 192 million annual visitors to national forests has been cut by 28 percent, and biologist and technician positions have dropped by 39 percent. White River National Forest rangers said they couldn’t comment directly on pending legislation. But in past years, the White River, like other national forests, has had resources diverted from recreation programs and other areas to pay for firefighting in other parts of the country — especially toward the end of the fiscal year.

Manpower can also be affected. Often, rangers from local districts are called away from their posts for weeks at a time to join in firefighting efforts in other states. That can hamper local trail-work projects and even slow planning for ski-area proposals. When major blazes broke out in California last year, national forests in the rest of the country, including the White River, had to foot at least part of the bill, affecting their ability to complete other projects.

...According to a press release from Congressman Jared Polis’ office, the House unanimously approved an amendment that requires timely updates of the fire plans and budgets. Without the amendment, the plans could quickly fall out-of-date from things like climate change and the pine-beetle infestation.

“My district is a prime example of why we need an ever-evolving fire management plan,” Polis said in his statement. “We’ve been hit hard by climate change and the pine-beetle epidemic that has killed millions of acres of forest and has brought the threat of wildfire to our backyards.” By continually revising the plan, federal agencies will take climate change, the pine-beetle infestation, population growth, and other factors of change into account and ensure that the plan remains an effective tool into the future, Polis said....

Fire-fighting plane, shot by Hogne, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0 License

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