March 21, 2018

Udall Secures Major Breakthrough for Wildfire Funding in Omnibus Appropriations Bill

Agreement ends ‘fire borrowing’ by 2020, will ensure Forest Service can fight fires, keep communities safe, and carry out its core prevention work to protect forest health

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, announced that he has secured a 10-year fix for wildfire funding as part of the fiscal year 2018 omnibus funding bill made released today.

The agreement will ensure reliable funding for fighting catastrophic wildfires for the next 10 years, starting in 2020. It ends the practice known as “fire borrowing” — in which the Forest Service and Interior Department are forced to borrow from non-fire activities, including prevention, to pay for fire suppression. The bill includes $1.946 billion in FY2018 for fire suppression, which is $500 million more than the 10-year average and the president’s budget. With carryover balances, this total provides for the forecasted costs estimated by the agencies for fire suppression. Beginning in 2020, it also increases the funding cap for wildfire — starting at $2.25 billion in FY2020 and rising to $2.95 billion in FY2027 — and frees up the rest of the Forest Service budget to focus on forest stewardship, wildfire prevention, public access and recreation, and other core responsibilities. The combined provisions shore up funding for fighting wildfires for the next decade.

“Finding a solution to the wildfire funding crisis has been a priority of mine for many years. So I am extremely pleased that we were able to get this done, despite the partisan division in Washington. This is an urgently needed solution for New Mexico and other Southwestern states as they begin yet another fire season and another year of drought,” Udall said. "This agreement ends the cycle of 'fire borrowing’ for 10 years — and our communities, our forests and the watersheds that sustain our communities will benefit."

"We have been underfunding emergency firefighting for too many years, 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,” Udall continued. "Wildfires are as devastating to communities in the West as hurricanes are in the East. They should be treated like the natural disasters they are — without shortchanging communities by taking funds from other important programs at the Forest Service or Interior Department. This agreement provides certainty so that when a community faces a major wildfire disaster, we'll have the funds to fight it. And it means that when the fire is out, we can rehabilitate the forest and protect watersheds and communities from further damage."

Details of the agreement are as follows:

Wildfire Funding Fix
The omnibus appropriations bill creates a new cap adjustment for wildfire. The proposal freezes the 10-year average at the FY 2015 level ($1.395 billion), which provides the Forest Service with certainty in its discretionary funding for programs other than firefighting so that more agency resources can be spent on management and restoration. The provision ramps up the amount available for firefighting in the new fire cap from $2.25 billion to $2.95 billion from FY2020 to FY2027, to keep up with the projected increases in the cost of fighting wildfire and to end the annual disruption of fire borrowing.

Disaster Cap Adjustment (FY19 – FY21)
The omnibus wildfire deal also includes a disaster cap adjustment fix to keep pace with the growing cost of natural disasters, which are linked to climate change. The disaster cap adjustment gives FEMA, DOT, HUD, USACE, SBA, USDA and other agencies access to increased disaster funding. In FY2019 the cap adjustment adds an additional $4.59 billion in available disaster funds, in FY2020 an increase of $5.72 billion, and in FY2021 $6.38 billion.