Longer and more destructive fire seasons in Colorado and around the West have been taking a bigger budget share at the U.S. Forest Service, leaving less money for repairing fire damage and keeping forests healthy.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose department oversees the Forest Service, praised the plan as a big improvement over the current model, which forces forest managers to take money from other programs to cover the increasing cost of fighting fires.
“The problem has been that we’ve been simply robbing Peter to pay Paul for quite a number of years, and we need to really preserve the restoration and resiliency money so we can do a better job of maintaining healthier forests,” Vilsack says.
A proposal announced this week by President Obama would create an emergency wildfire fund. This fund would let the government respond to fires the same way it already handles other expensive, destructive and unpredictable events.
“We would begin treating those fires more like a natural disaster as they are, similar to a hurricane or a tornado or a flood," Vilsack says. "We don’t appropriate money in advance for those circumstances, we essentially create the money, if you will, as circumstances require."
A bill to make the change has bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate.