First, Congress must approve the recommended $413 million for funding of the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act. This act sets aside specific funds for directly fighting fires — from the wages of the firefighters to the cost of planes and equipment. Every year since 2000, firefighting expenses have exceeded $1 billion a year, so FLAME’s budget is essential to protecting our homes and communities. Even the best fire prevention plans are not going to make wildfires go away overnight.
Next, $110 million is needed for State Fire Assistance, which is partially funded through the Forest Service’s wildfire accounts and partially through their cooperative programs with states. This federal program helps communities prepare Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) to reduce hazardous fuels and other wildfire threats in their local communities. Removing hazardous fuels is a key component of fire prevention. The greater the fuel load, the more intense the fire. Through CWPPs, communities are able to identify sites and methods for fuel reduction to protect their most at-risk areas, expediting federal aid to these areas. Federal support of CWPPs ensures consistency across county lines and within forests. By funding fire prevention, the budgetary needs for firefighting will decrease in the coming years, saving Americans millions of dollars.
Science has proven that fires can be a normal, healthy part of forest ecosystems — returning nutrients to the soil and removing disease-ridden plants and harmful insects. But too many years of suppression and hands-off management have made our public lands overgrown, leading to hotter, larger and more destructive fires.
Wildfires cost lives, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to property, crops and livestock, not to mention the destruction of wildlife and ecosystems. We can no longer simply react to the problem, but must work harder to prevent it. And to do that, Congress needs to monetarily support both firefighting and fire prevention efforts.
Scott Steen is CEO of American Forests, the nation’s only nonprofit devoted exclusively to the preservation and restoration of America’s urban and rural forests.