Today U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell will be appearing before the U.S. House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies subcommittee discussing budget needs for fiscal year 2014.
One of the topics he likely will address is the proposed FY 2014 cut to the Hazardous Fuels program, in the range of 25% for the Forest Service and 50% for the Department of Interior.
The purpose of the Hazardous Fuels program is to reduce the threat of megafires on forest lands across the country, through selective thinning and controlled burns. By safely reducing selected brush and trees in our federal forests, this program removes excess fuel that feeds the dangerous emergency fires that have plagued the country over the last decade (60% more acres burned than the previous four decade average).
The proactive nature of the Hazardous Fuels program has proven much safer and cost-effective than reactive responses to unplanned emergency fires. Last year the Forest Service spent nearly half of its budget reactively fighting emergency fires, leaving an ever-shrinking pot of resources to address the many other challenges faced by our forests and the people that depend on them
Christopher Topik, Director of Restoring America’s Forests for The Nature Conservancy, noted support for much of President Obama’s FY 14 Budget, but shared concerns about the cuts to the Hazardous Fuels program.
“In many respects, we believe the budget addresses the need for fiscal austerity while providing support for important conservation programs.”
“But,” he continued, “we were particularly dismayed to see the President’s proposal to dramatically cut the Hazardous Fuels Program for both the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior. We believe that a balanced approach, emphasizing proactive hazardous fuels reduction and community preparedness along with a commitment to safe and cost-effective wildfire response strategies, is essential to addressing the tremendous fire management challenges that face us today and into the future.”
Earlier this month The Nature Conservancy, along with a coalition of more than 30 leading national and regional forest organizations, submitted a coalition letter to Congress supporting meaningful wildland fire management funding.
Several recent examples from around the nation reveal the comparative benefits of investing in proactive forest treatment:
• In Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest, U.S. Forest Service researchers published a study in the January 2013 Journal of Forestry that concluded that fuel treatments reduced the number of large fires, fire sizes, and fire suppression costs.
• In the U.S. Southwest, Forest Service researchers found fuel treatments changed fire behavior 94% in 2011 and 95% in 2012; and helped control wildfires 87% in 2011 and 75% in 2012 (contact for study).
• At Florida’s Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, researchers projected hazardous fuels reduction cost savings to be $3.6 million for the period of 2008-2012.
• In Washington’s eastern forests, analysis found hazardous fuels treatments cost $35 per acre; fighting fires in forested areas not pre-treated cost $4,400 per acre.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
The Nature Conservancy