Cantwell Secures Vital Investment to Fight Washington State’s Wildfire Crisis

Omnibus funding bill includes $6.2 billion to support programs that aim to stop fires before they start, hire more firefighters, and better predict where fires and smoke will start and spread

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced that she has helped secure $6.2 billion in wildfire prevention and response funding in the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Appropriations bill, which funds government programs through September 30, 2023. Federal funding to address the wildfire crisis in the West is a key priority for communities throughout Washington state that are impacted by wildfire and smoke.

“Wildfires impact all Washingtonians, from communities on the front lines of fires to those that are inundated with smoke every summer,” Sen. Cantwell said. “To make an impact, we need to continue to support forest management practices that reduce the number and severity of fires, federal fire-fighting personnel, and resources to fight the fires – and importantly, we need to make investments that will help communities recover from fire and smoke. The 14% increase in wildfire funding in this bill will help us remove more of the dry trees and brush to prevent fires, hire more firefighters to battle the fires that do start, give us a better idea of where each fire is likely to spread and where smoke will go, and get disaster recovery teams on the ground to help communities recover.”

The funding includes:

  1. $4.702 billion for USFS Wildland Fire Management, an increase of $577 million from FY22, including:
  • $32 million for wildfire preparedness. Preparedness activities include preparing and executing fire management plans and cooperative agreements, as well as improving interagency coordination.
  • $1.395 billion for wildfire suppression. Suppression activities include extinguishing or confining fires and funds are used primarily for wildfire response, including funding aviation asset operations, conducting other support functions in direct support of wildfire incidents, and funding certain post-fire emergency stabilization activities.
  • $913 million to maintain, train, and recruit federal wildland fire fighters and support staff as well as maintain fire management infrastructure, equipment, and resources, and develop, maintain, and advance technological tools to enhance decision making capacity.
  1. $210 million for USFS National Forest System in additional funds through the Disaster Relief Supplemental for expenses related to the consequences of wildfires and other natural disasters during the 2020, 2021, and 2022 calendar years, including post-wildfire restoration for watershed protection, hazardous fuels mitigation, and burned area recovery.
  2. $207 million for USFS Hazardous Fuels management, an increase of about $20 million, including programs that reduce wildfire risk, address deficiencies in wood product infrastructure, and conduct monitoring and evaluation research of forest areas.
  3. $1.508 billion for Department of Interior Wildland Fire Management, an increase of $152 million from FY22, with $504 million in emergency funding. This funding will allow DOI to maintain wildfire personnel and equipment while completing fuels management, post-fire rehabilitation, wildfire science and research, and facilities maintenance.
  4. $20.5 million for DOI Burned Area Rehabilitation, the same as FY22. The Burned Area Rehabilitation Program supports efforts to repair or improve burned landscapes unlikely to recover without human assistance.
  5. $7 million to develop a collaborative and integrated fire weather research program and establish a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fire Weather Testbed using high-performance computing. These dollars will leverage increased computing power to better predict fire behavior, keeping firefighters safer and figuring out where best to deploy resources.

Sen. Cantwell, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and is a Senior Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has consistently worked to make sure wildfire funding is increased to meet the need felt around Washington state and the nation.

Earlier this year, Sen. Cantwell and Representatives DelBene and Schrier visited Sultan, WA and met with local leaders about potential impacts of the Bolt Creek Fire. That same day the Members sent a letter to the Forest Service, urging them to expedite emergency repairs. In the letter, the Members noted that the Bolt Creek Fire burned 14,000 acres along U.S. Highway 2, a key connector in Washington state that carries 3.6 million tons of freight each year, and is traveled by over 22,000 vehicles daily. Shortly after the letter was sent, the U.S. Forest Service announced mitigation efforts to prevent landslides and flood along Highway 2 in the area burned by the Bolt Creek Fire.

In May, Sen. Cantwell introduced the Fire Ready Nation Act, enhancing NOAA’s capacity to help prevent and fight wildfires.

In June, Sen. Cantwell visited Spokane to highlight improvements in wildfire prevention and response, viewing new fire and smoke forecasting equipment provided to the region by 2021’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), including a ceilometer that will be installed at Spokane International Airport to provide advanced accurate smoke predictions.

Last year’s BIL also included $8.25 billion for more than 20 federal programs to reduce fuel with prescribed burns and rebuild areas destroyed by wildfires. The BIL package included $5 billion to upgrade the nation’s grid infrastructure, reducing the risk of outdated equipment sparking destructive fires. $180 million of these funds went to NOAA, including $13.5 million in funding for 900 ceilometers that detect smoke in the atmosphere and $10 million for upgraded IMET laptops and weather instruments, like weather balloons used in fighting fires.

The Senate is expected to vote on the Omnibus bill as soon as today.