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) TesterKrystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? GOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate Former rancher says failure to restore meat labeling law is costing rural America 'billions' 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 EnziSenate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Budget process quick fixes: Fixing the wrong problem Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid MORE (R-Wyo.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHouse GOP unveils alternative drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote Pelosi gets standing ovation at Kennedy Center Honors Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills MORE (D-Ore.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPotential Dem defectors face pressure on impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment Senate braces for brawl on Trump impeachment rules MORE (R-Alaska), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellLet's enact a privacy law that advances economic justice There's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware MORE (D-Wash.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoThe job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Lawmakers battle over future of Ex-Im Bank Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid MORE (R-Idaho), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEx-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat Man acquitted over tweet offering 0 to killing an ICE agent Lessons of the Kamala Harris campaign MORE (R-Ariz.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ariz.), John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoLife after Yucca Mountain: The time has come to reset US nuclear waste policy Trump announces restart to Taliban peace talks in surprise Afghanistan visit Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda MORE (R-Wyo.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyMcConnell says he's 'honored' to be WholeFoods Magazine's 2019 'Person of the Year' Overnight Energy: Protesters plan Black Friday climate strike | 'Father of EPA' dies | Democrats push EPA to abandon methane rollback Warren bill would revoke Medals of Honor for Wounded Knee massacre 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.