Omnibus budget bill includes funding to end “fire borrowing” within USFS budget @SenCoryGardner @SenBennetCO

Sprague Fire September 2017. Photo credit the Associated Press via The Flathead Beacon.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Tucked away in the massive $1.3 trillion federal omnibus spending bill is a much-needed policy fix that ends the frustrating practice of “fire borrowing.”

Before the president signed the bill Friday, the cost of fighting catastrophic wildfires in the West was wreaking havoc with efforts to reduce the threat of fires in the first place.

Most federal agencies can draw from an emergency fund to pay for disaster response. But not the Forest Service and the Interior Department. With no access to disaster funds, they’ve been forced to borrow from other areas of their budgets, creating a destructive cycle of fighting megafires at the expense of programs that are supposed to mitigate fire risk.

This wildland fire funding problem affects Western states, so it’s no surprise that Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner were instrumental in forging a bipartisan coalition to include a fix in the spending bill.

The deal secured in the omnibus is based on the framework from Bennet and Gardner’s Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. It provides the Forest Service with certainty in its discretionary funding for programs other than firefighting so that more agency resources can be spent on management and restoration. It allows the Forest Service to “complete the entirety of its mission,” without being undermined by the pressures of fire, Bennet said…

With costs exceeding $2.4 billion, the 2017 fire was season was the most expensive ever, according to the Forest Service’s Cost of Fire Operations program. Colorado’s anemic snowpack may contribute to an earlier and above-normal fire season, underscoring the need for a fire funding fix.

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