Fire Transfers Endanger Recreation Projects
The western fire season seems to grow more intense each year. This summer, fires have raged around the Cle Elum Ranger District and Mount Adams, and California has seen massive wildfires across its public lands. With those huge blazes come massive firefighting expenses, often exceeding funds allocated to the Forest Service to fight fires. In the past, the Forest Service has borrowed funds from recreation programs to fight fires, tapping money not yet spent in the recreation fee program, appropriated trail and recreation dollars and other pots of money. Congress has only sporadically reappropriated this funding. And even when those funds are reappropriated, project delays can leave trails unmaintained for more seasons. Delays of this kind can cause projects that are on the line between routine maintenance and large scale capital work to slide further into more difficult and expensive capital territory.
Last month, in order to plug a $400 million hole in the firefighting budget, United States Forest Service headquarters told all forest service regions to stop spending money that was not already awarded to contracts or being spent on salaries. That means that important projects, such as the road to Windy Ridge at Mount St. Helens can't go forward. It also means that funds set aside to be used as matching money for state and federal grants can't be spent, jeopardizing both the original funds and the potential grant revenue. That places projects like Snoqualmie Lake in the Snoqualmie Ranger District and Standup Creek in the Cle Elum District in danger. Both of these projects could slide into deep disrepair if they're left idle for another season, placing an already strapped agency even deeper in a hole.
What can hikers do? We can start by making sure that our elected representatives know that these transfers are unacceptable. Please contact your Member of Congress and Senators Murray and Cantwell and let them know that the forest service needs all of its missions--recreation, conservation and firefighting--to be funded adequately. Specifically, ask Senators Murray and Cantwell to support the FLAME Act, which sets up a fund separate from the the forest service budget to fight fires. The FLAME Act has passed the House and is in the Senate now. Congressman Dicks, Chair of the House Interior Appropriations Committee is one of its sponsors. But before it can become law, it must pass the Senate and be signed by the president. You can find your elected officials here.
Thank you for your work on behalf of hikers.