Thursday, April 10, 2008

Western Governors advise Congress about fire funding

From the Western Governors Association today:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gov. Janet Napolitano told the U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee today that federal funding to fight catastrophic wildland fires must not come at the expense of fire prevention programs.

The governor, testifying on behalf of the Western Governors’ Association, said the proposed Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act (FLAME Act) would help relieve the burden on the U.S. Forest Service’s already tight budget and the drain on wildfire prevention funding by creating a permanent fund for fighting the most catastrophic blazes.

“Large fires that used to burn hundreds of acres have been supplanted with mega-fires that burn tens of thousands of acres – sometimes in a single afternoon,” Napolitano said. “It is time to face reality and address the funding requirements to suppress these catastrophic fires."

The governor said forests throughout the West are now in the midst of a “perfect storm” and there is “no time to waste” in addressing ever worsening catastrophic wildland fire activity.

“Decades of fuel accumulations and acres of beetle-killed timber, the rapid expansion of wildland/urban interface, and the overarching presence of drought and climate change have now combined to dramatically increase the numbers and size of mega-fires,” Napolitano said. Passage of the FLAME Act, she added, would “ensure that funding is not swept from vital restoration and prevention activities.”

The Governor noted that in the 1990s, wildfire suppression costs comprised 20 percent of the overall Forest Service budget. Today, with more catastrophic wildfires, suppression efforts consume more than half of the Forest Service budget. Recent fire seasons have cost upwards of one billion dollars, compared to $200 million a season in the ‘90s.

A copy of the Governor’s testimony is available on the WGA Web site at www.westgov.org.

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