Arizona faces a recurring threat each year as temperatures rise and the threat of wildfires grows. To combat this threat, Arizona is embarking on the largest stewardship contract in the country, the Four Forest Restoration, or 4FRI. As a part of 4FRI, small diameter trees are thinned to reduce the risk of forest fires. However, 4FRI focuses only on the western part of the forests, specifically the Kaibab, Coconino, Apache-Sitgreaves, and Tonto forests. In order to protect all of Arizona, it will be necessary to strive to prevent wildfires in all of Arizona’s forests. Yet, the drastically increasing costs of wildfire suppression are straining federal budgets and have caused wildfire prevention techniques to lose funding. Healthy forest restoration efforts, like 4FRI, help preserve forests while mitigating the damages of even the most severe forest fires.
The importance of funding for wildfire suppression is a topic that is being discussed by members of both parties across the country. In a letter to Senator Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon, Senator John McCain ( R) and Senator Jeff Flake ( R), both of Arizona, identify a crucial need that arises in S. 1875, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2013.
S. 1875 answers an important demand by increasing funding for wildfire suppression by circumventing the budget caps to give the Forest Service and DOI new budget authority to pay the increased cost of fighting wildfires. In their letter, Senator McCain and Senator Flake note that:
This dramatic step of adjusting budget-control measures would be accomplished without targeting the heart of the fire borrowing problem; namely, the Administration’s failure to use an accurate formula to request fire suppression funding.
They continue by noting that the current budget is built upon a 10-year average of suppression costs. Drastically increased costs of suppression have invalidated the 10-year averages that the plans are based upon. Senator McCain and Senator Flake note that S.1875 establishes a “budget windfall” by moving previously allocated funds outside of the Forest Service’s budget caps.
The difficulty that Senator McCain and Senator Flake identify lies with S.1875’s focus on “off-budget adjustments,” rather than prioritizing fire prevention and suppression and creating an accurate budget to build upon.
Wildfire prevention is one of the most crucial steps in protecting Arizona’s people and land from devastating fires. 4FRI, and previously the White Mountain Stewardship Contract, have made a powerful start in wildfire prevention have created jobs through a growing forest product industry.
It is the responsibility of every Arizonan to maintain focus on S.1875 and the dangers of neglecting wildfire prevention. Through Stewardship Contracts Arizona has made an unprecedented commitment to the health and safety of our forests. With an administration that has cut the Forest Service’s hazardous fuel reduction spending and DOI funding, we cannot allow for wildfire prevention to also fall by the way side. By showing support for continued funding for wildfire prevention we may be able to gather funding to use the thinning techniques that have worked so well on the Western part of the forests to protect the Eastern forests as well.
Senator McCain and Senator Flake have contributed great leadership on behalf of Arizona. It is our duty as Arizonans to show our support for the protection of our forests.
If you have questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this article, please feel free to contact me.