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For Immediate Release, March 6, 2008

Contact: Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713

Wildfire Bill Would Fix Forest Service Budget Borrowing  

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz— Conservationists applauded a bill introduced today that would establish a new fund to cover costs of federal agencies battling the largest, most expensive wildland wildfires. The funds would be separate from appropriated agency budgets and would fix the problem of “fire borrowing” from non-fire programs.

“Emergency fire costs wreak havoc on Forest Service budgets and priorities,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This bill fixes that problem.”

Forest Service budgets for wildland fire management have averaged $1.5 billion annually in recent years. Owing to escalating fire costs, however, the agency borrows from other programs, like wildlife and watershed programs, to cover costs beyond that amount — about $500 million annually — which Congress in turn reimburses.

“This bill allows the Forest Service to fight emergency fires without compromising their core functions like conserving wildlife habitat and restoring degraded streams and forests,” said McKinnon.

Fire suppression now accounts for 48 percent of the Forest Service’s annual budget, with that percentage increasing each year. Two percent of today’s fires account for 80 percent of the Forest Service’s firefighting costs.

“As budgets are increasingly consumed by firefighting costs, the Forest Service is becoming a Fire Service,” said McKinnon. “There’s more to managing national forest system than fighting wildfire.”

The bill also requires that the secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior submit a plan to Congress one year following enactment that establishes a cohesive wildland fire management strategy.

The Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act (FLAME Act) (H.R. 5541) was introduced by Reps. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Norm Dicks, D-Wash.

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