Energy & Environment

Forest Service predicts ‘significant’ wildfire season


The Forest Service is preparing for a “significant” wildfire season on its lands after a very rough start.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose department oversees the agency, along with Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, met with top land managers Tuesday to learn how firefighters are preparing for wildfires and what resources they’ll need.

{mosads}The agency said fires up to this point have been five times worse than last year, and last year’s season as a whole set a fire record.

“The 2016 wildfire season is off to a worrisome start,” Vilsack said in a statement. “Southern California, the Great Basin in Nevada, portions of the southwest, and even Florida and Hawaii are particularly vulnerable this year. In California, more than 40 million trees have died, becoming dry fuel for wildfire.”

Vilsack and Tidwell used the opportunity of their annual wildfire season briefing to push Congress to fix the way the federal government accounts for wildfires.

The Obama administration has long advocated that wildfires should be treated financially in the same way as disasters, allowing the Forest Service to tap into emergency funds once annual costs reach 70 percent of the 10-year average.

The fix has bipartisan support in Congress but has not passed. Without it, agencies usually borrow from other accounts, including money meant to proactively mitigate wildfire risks.

They also used the announcement to reinforce their position that climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires and increasing fighting costs, along with other factors.

“The job of fighting wildfires has become increasingly difficult due to the effects of climate change, chronic droughts and development within Wildland-Urban Interface areas,” said Tidwell. “We must do what is necessary to ensure we have the resources to perform restoration and wildfire prevention work essential to keep our forests healthy.”

Tags Department of Agriculture Forest Service Tom Vilsack wildfires

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