Senators call for reversal of fire prevention cuts

Several western state senators have called on the Trump administration to reverse proposed funding cuts to critical wildfire prevention and forest restoration projects throughout the country.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., led the group of eight senators.

“I’m disappointed in the firefighting budget as it relates to the Department of the Interior’s part of that program,” Cantwell told to Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt at a hearing last week. “We worked very hard in a bipartisan fashion to end fire borrowing, and so we want to make sure that the president’s FY 2020 budget proposal doesn’t reverse course on that.”

The administration’s recently released fiscal year 2020 budget proposal cuts funding from nearly every U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of the Interior account related to forestry.

“It is inexplicable that the administration proposed to cut nearly every USDA and DOI account related to forestry in your FY 2020 budget,” the senators wrote to Bernhardt and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “It is well-documented that – because of climate change, a century of well-intentioned, but misguided fire suppression strategies, and dramatically increased development in the wildland-urban interface – wildfires across the country continue to grow in size and cost year after year.”

The letter also highlights previous comments made by administration officials and statistics from the U.S. Forest Service about the importance of fire prevention efforts.

According to the Forest Service, “80 million acres of national forest lands and 70,000 communities are at risk of uncharacteristically severe wildfires,” yet the budget proposes fuel reduction or maintenance work on only 3.4 million acres, said Cantwell.

Last Congress, Cantwell secured passage of language to fix the chronic failures in wildfire funding that have plagued fire-prone communities across the West, she noted. Specifically, the omnibus bill ended the Forest Service practice of fire borrowing by establishing a contingency account for use in bad fire years and funds it with over $2 billion a year through 2027.

In addition, the legislation freed up over $100 million for fire prevention projects and recreation programs. Despite these reforms, the president’s budget takes no action to treat any additional acres to protect against wildfire, she said.

Others signing the letter were Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M.; Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.