May 04, 2017

Udall Secures $407 Million for Emergency Wildfire Suppression in Bipartisan Budget Agreement

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, lead Democrat on the subcommittee overseeing funding for the Department of Interior and Forest Service, announced that an additional $407 million for emergency wildfire suppression will be included as part of a bipartisan budget agreement to fund the government through September. The funding bill — also known as an omnibus appropriations bill — passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 309-118 on Wednesday, and is expected to pass the Senate before the end of the week.

The emergency funding will enable the U.S. Forest Service to pay for the most severe fires while maintaining its funding for programs designed to prevent future wildfires. In the last several years, the combination of tight budgets, unrealistic funding constraints, and a growing number of severe wildfires have forced the Forest Service to dip into funds for forest health and watershed protection to pay for emergency wildfire fighting — taking money from programs that work on preventative measures to limit future wildfires. Udall has long advocated for Congress to treat the most severe fires like other natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods and tornadoes, and pay for them through the federal emergency fund. Today, wildfire suppression is funded as part of the Forest Service and Interior Department budgets.

"From Whitewater-Baldy to Las Conchas to Little Bear, New Mexicans know too well the increasingly frequent and severe damage that wildfires can inflict on our state," Udall said. "For too many years we have been underfunding emergency firefighting, fueling a destructive cycle in which the Forest Service has to tap funding for programs to prevent wildfires tomorrow, in order to fight severe fires today. We need to end this cycle of 'fire borrowing' -- for the sake of our communities' safety and our forests' health and the protection of the watersheds that sustain our communities. That's why I worked hard, to secure an additional $407 million for emergency firefighting needs in the omnibus appropriations bill this week. I am committed to continuing to do everything I can to equip the Forest Service with the resources it needs to help protect our communities, our watersheds and our forests. This additional funding will get us through this fire season. But we need a permanent solution — it's high time we treated wildfires in the West like we do natural disasters in other parts of the country — without shortchanging communities by taking funds from other important programs at the Forest Service or Interior Department."

The bill provides a total of $4.2 billion for wildland fire management activities at the Forest Service and Interior Department. This includes $2.05 billion for wildfire suppression for the agencies to respond to forest fires, which with carryover balances fully funds estimated firefighting needs. A total of $407 million is provided on an emergency basis in order to prevent the agencies from resorting to borrowing from non-fire accounts and having to put ongoing restoration, construction, and acquisition projects in jeopardy of permanently losing funding and momentum. The bill also provides an increase to hazardous fuels reduction programs, including $390 million for the Forest Service and $180 million for the Interior Department, which is a total of $25 million above the enacted level.