Forest Service blazes through all its cash to fight flames
Written byDARRYL FEARS, Washington Post/GW
This year, the Forest Service ran out of money to pay for firefighters, fire trucks and aircraft that dump fire retardant as it fought the worst wildfire season on record.
Officials shifted money from other forest management programs to pay for its efforts. But those same programs target preventing such wildfires in the first place.
The wildfire season, which once was June to September, has expanded in the past decade and now runs from May to October. This year's wildfire burn was already at 8 million acres at the end of August. It was once rare to see 5 million acres burn during an entire season.
"They knew they were running out of money early on, in May," said Chris Topik, director of North American forest restoration for the Nature Conservancy. "They were telling people in May, 'Be careful, don't spend too much [on prevention].'"
In the fiscal 2013 continuing resolution, Congress has reimbursed the Forest Service and the Interior Department with $400 million, which will allow fire prevention work to continue through the next fiscal year.
But while forestry experts and environmental groups said the move was needed, they criticized Congress for providing only half of the $1 billion it cost to fight this year's fires. The traditional method used to appropriate money has proved inadequate because climate change has resulted in longer dry and drought periods, they said.