Forest Service: Cost of fighting wildfires will top $2 billion a year

Forest Service: Cost of fighting wildfires will top $2 billion a year
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Fighting wildfires could cost the U.S. government nearly $2 billion a year within the next decade, the Forest Service warns in a new report.

By 2025, the report says wildfire efforts could cost nearly $1.8 billion a year, which would eat up two-thirds of the Forest Service’s annual budgets.

That’s because Congress doesn’t treat wildfires as natural disasters whereby lawmakers can suddenly allocate emergency funding. Instead, the Forest Service has to rely on money Congress appropriates when it can't foresee future wildfires.

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If Congress doesn’t change the way the Forest Service is funded for wildfires, the agency will be forced to transfer $700 million over the next ten years from its other programs, the report said.

For the first time in the Forest Service’s 110-year history, it now spends more than half of its annual budget to fight wildfires. Last year alone, the 10 largest wildfires cost the government more than $320 million, the report said, and it's only expected to get worse.

"Climate change and other factors are causing the cost of fighting fires to rise every year," said Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE, "but the way we fund our Forest Service hasn't changed in generations. Meanwhile, everything else suffers.”

Because the Forest Service can’t receive emergency funding for wildfires, it has to take away funding from programs that help prevent them from igniting like forest restoration and watershed and landscape management.

“Unfortunately, due to Congressional inaction and growing costs associated with fighting wildfires, the Forest Service is increasingly turning into a firefighting agency,” Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterBennet reintroduces bill to ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever Red-state Democrats worry impeachment may spin out of control MORE (D-Montana) said in a statement on Thursday.

Tester is among a group of 11 senators who are outraged about the situation, and released similar statements. They are Sens. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziPoll: Majority of independent voters want GOP to retain control of Senate in 2020 Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Liz Cheney and Rand Paul extend war of words MORE (R-Wyo.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Facebook removes Russian, Iranian accounts trying to interfere in 2020 | Zuckerberg on public relations blitz | Uncertainty over Huawei ban one month out US ban on China tech giant faces uncertainty a month out Hillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship MORE (D-Ore.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMulvaney defends decision to host G-7 at Doral: Trump 'considers himself to be in the hospitality business' Trump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe MORE (R-Alaska), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Overnight Energy: Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest| Democrats inch closer to issuing subpoenas for Interior, EPA records| Trump's plan to boost ethanol miffs corn groups and the fossil fuel industry Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest MORE (D-Wash.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoGOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Nearing finish line, fight for cannabis banking bill shifts to the Senate On The Money: Trump strikes trade deal with Japan on farm goods | GOP senator to meet Trump amid spending stalemate | House passes cannabis banking bill | Judge issues one-day pause on subpoena for Trump's tax returns MORE (R-Idaho), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPublisher announces McSally book planned for May release Democrats lead Trump by wide margins in Minnesota Here's what to watch this week on impeachment MORE (R-Ariz.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeVulnerable senators hold the key to Trump's fate Trump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong How to survive an impeachment MORE (R-Ariz.), John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTo stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Defense: GOP wary of action on Iran | Pence says US 'locked and loaded' to defend allies | Iran's leader rules out talks with US GOP senator: Iran is behind attack on Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Wyo.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDemocrats introduce SWAMP Act to ban meetings with foreign leaders at Trump properties Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs Senate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick MORE (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Montana).

Murkowski oversaw a 2016 funding bill for the Interior Department and EPA, which she said offered a partial solution. The full Senate has yet to vote on the bill.

“This proposal would end the disruptive and unsustainable practice of borrowing from, and later repaying money to, other government programs to deal with fire emergencies, while also providing up front the resources the agencies need to fight fires in all but the most extreme years,” she said.

Vilsack commended lawmakers in the House and Senate for also offering a bipartisan bill that he said is “an important step” in addressing the funding issue.

The legislation would treat wildfires like natural disasters and would partially replenish the ability to restore forests and prevent future fires.

"We must treat catastrophic wildfire not like a routine expense," said Vilsack, "but as the natural disasters they truly are.”

This story was updated at 3:04 p.m.