Save our national forests with a simple fire funding fix

  It should be a simple nonpartisan fix to a budgeting issue that every year strips the U.S. Forest Service of its ability to adequately manage millions of acres of federal land and the trails, roads and structures that allow Americans to enjoy their forests.

Instead, for more than two decades the issue has eluded common sense, mired in an unnecessary proxy battle that pits the logging industry against environmentalists.

In 1995, fighting wildfires accounted for 16 percent of the U.S. Forest Service’s budget, but last fiscal year the agency spent more than $2 billion battling record-setting blazes in the West, gobbling up 56 percent of the agency’s budget. That leaves precious few resources to run the department, and even less money to engage in the kind of land stewardship that could prevent some wildfires and reduce the intensity of others.

The simple fix, as proposed in the Senate’s Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017, would cap how much the Forest Service must dedicate in its current budget to fire suppression. It would also end “fire borrowing,” which forces the department to steal from its other needs when that firefighting budget is exceeded. Instead, any additional funds needed in a fiscal year will come from natural disaster funding supplied by Congress.

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