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) TesterTrump says he'll sign USPS funding if Democrats make concessions Tester demands answers from postmaster general on reports of mailbox removals The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse 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 EnziDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection Republicans battle over COVID-19 package's big price tag MORE (R-Wyo.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Simulated cyberattack success | New bill for election security funding | Amazon could be liable for defective products Markets rise as economy struggles; 'It does not make sense' Election security advocates see strong ally in Harris MORE (D-Ore.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump says he'll sign USPS funding if Democrats make concessions Overnight Energy: EPA finalizes rollback of Obama-era oil and gas methane emissions standards | Democratic lawmakers ask Interior to require masks indoors at national parks | Harris climate agenda stresses need for justice Bipartisan senators ask congressional leadership to extend census deadline MORE (R-Alaska), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mike Roman says 3M on track to deliver 2 billion respirators globally and 1 billion in US by end of year; US, Pfizer agree to 100M doses of COVID-19 vaccine that will be free to Americans Overnight Energy: Supreme Court reinstates fast-track pipeline permit except for Keystone XL | Judge declines to reverse Dakota Access Pipeline shutdown OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' report | Climate change erases millennia of cooling: study | Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget MORE (D-Wash.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Top GOP senator urges agencies to protect renters, banks amid coronavirus aid negotiations Chamber of Commerce, banking industry groups call on Senate to pass corporate diversity bill MORE (R-Idaho), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDemocrats hammer Trump for entertaining false birther theory about Harris Trump rips Bill Maher as 'exhausted, gaunt and weak' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The choice: Biden-Harris vs. Trump-Pence MORE (R-Ariz.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (R-Ariz.), John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report Latest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say MORE (R-Wyo.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Merkley, Sanders introduce bill limiting corporate facial recognition 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.