Home | News | Savannah | Budget cuts trim federal wildfire spending

Budget cuts trim federal wildfire spending

By
Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font

By ALAN FRAM
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - This year's across-the-board budget cuts are slicing tens of millions of dollars from the federal government's funds for battling wildfires, reductions that have meant fewer firefighters and could cause agencies to dip into other programs designed to prevent future blazes.

The U.S. Forest Service's $2 billion-a-year firefighting budget, which comprises the bulk of the federal effort, has been reduced by 5%, a cut that has meant 500 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer fire engines than last year, agency officials say. The Interior Department's $37.5 million reduction has meant 100 fewer seasonal firefighter positions and other lost jobs as well, department officials say.

The reductions come as officials brace for a wildfire season they say might rival last year's, when about 9.3 million acres burned, 1 of the largest totals on record. The West in particular faces tinderbox conditions, which, combined with high winds, proved deadly last weekend when a wildfire killed 19 members of a firefighting crew outside Yarnell, Ariz.

"This reduces our capability and significantly constrains our work in fire response" and restoring land after fires, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last month about the cuts.

So far, more than 22,000 wildfires have burned more than 1.5 million acres across the country, according to the government's National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise, Idaho, which helps oversee federal firefighting efforts.

Together, the Interior Department and the Agriculture Department, which includes the Forest Service, have around 13,000 firefighters.

The across-the-board budget cuts - called the sequester - have affected most federal programs and are the product of a deficit-reduction stalemate between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans. The budget reductions, which are scheduled to cut federal spending by $1.2 trillion over the coming decade, have forced many agencies to take steps, including putting thousands of workers on unpaid furloughs.

Congressional aides said that because of the sequester, the Fire Service's suppression fund - which pays for overtime and other costs of fighting wildfires - has been cut from $538 million this year to $510 million. The service was also facing a $50 million cut in its fire preparedness budget, the fund used to hire firefighters and buy equipment.

The Interior Department, whose firefighting budget was $832 million before the sequester, was saving money from its reduced hiring of seasonal firefighters.

Many are being hired for shorter periods to save money, Jewell testified. Including the seasonal firefighters, the department will have 250 fewer positions in its fire programs, officials said.

When faced with emergency expenses for fighting wildfires that drain their funds, both agencies would draw money from other accounts in their budgets. From 2002 to 2012, the Fire Service transferred $2.7 billion from other programs to pay for fighting fires, $2.3 billion of which Congress eventually restored. That "still led to disruptions within all Forest Service programs," Thomas Tidwell, chief of the Forest Service, told the Senate Energy panel last month.

Agency officials and environmental groups say such transfers can be harmful over time. For example, getting money to fight fires by taking it from programs for removing hazardous fuels from dry areas can make it likelier that future wildfires will occur.

"When we have emergencies burning, the U.S. government will continue to spend money on firefighting, even if they don't have the money," said Christopher Topik, director of the Restoring America's Forests project for The Nature Conservancy, the environmental group. "So then they'll take it out of these other kinds of accounts, which are the ones that actually reduce the risk. That's what will end up happening, and that's not a good policy."

Officials said the across-the-board cuts have had no direct impact on the 110 Hotshot crews around the country, the highly trained units based mostly in the West who respond to the worst wildfires. Most are financed and trained by the Fire Service and some by the Interior Department, but a handful - like the Arizona crew whose members died - are run locally.

"I don't know of any Hotshot crew that's been disbanded or not filled or been mothballed because of the sequester," said Tom Nichols, division chief for fire and aviation management of the National Park Service, a part of the Interior Department. "Because they really are our first line and our elite line for dealing with wildfires."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

  1. Barrow Co. firefighter Willie Etheridge Jr. fired after being charged with child porn (5.00)

  2. Morgan Lide: Cobb County high school student dies during study abroad (5.00)

  3. Suspect Brian Levern Gupton sought in fatal shooting at DeKalb apartment complex (5.00)

  4. Clayton Jerrod Ellington: Death penalty tossed out in Ga. triple murder case (5.00)

  5. Ruben Marin-Garibay arrested in fatal hit-and-run of Henry Co. officer Elgin Daniel (5.00)

  6. Guard Larry Stell fatally stabbed at Telfair State Prison (5.00)

  7. 'Hunger Games' sequel gives boost to Ga. economy (5.00)

  8. Mural of nude women in Atlanta to be covered up after community outrage (5.00)

  9. Sources: Andrea Sneiderman indicted in husband Rusty Sneiderman's death (5.00)

  10. Co-workers Michelle Chinnis, Tracy Downer killed in horrific tractor-trailer wreck (5.00)

  11. Matthew Pike, William Slaton, Daniel Slaton indicted in death of man found floating in Ocmulgee River (5.00)

  12. Clayton County Man Craig Davis faces charges of exposing two women to HIV (5.00)

  13. Teacher Shannon Schmieder Sentenced to 40 Years for Affair with 14 Year Old (5.00)

  14. Shopkeeper Atibi Thomas faces 25 years in prison for 'shooting' policeman Keith Roach whom he thought was a criminal (5.00)

  15. 6 charged with killing Norcross teen Nicholas Jackson (5.00)

  16. Teacher Almarcus Thomas accused of statutory rape, videotaping student (5.00)

  17. Augusta teen Kyle Austin Royal found shot to death in car in east Ga. (5.00)

  18. DA to review role of victim's widow Andrea Sneiderman in Ga. killing (5.00)

  19. Parents: School Bus Driver Watched Teen Girls Fight (5.00)

  20. Tire blowout suspected in crash that killed 12-year-old Devin Pierce in Douglasville (5.00)

  21. On-Star Alert Leads Police To Henry County Woman Sharon Young’s Body (5.00)

  22. Police: 8-Year-Old Boy Shot In DeKalb County (5.00)

  23. Clayton Mom Cierra Baughcum Accused Of Drunken Driving With Kids In Car (5.00)

  24. Newnan Daycare Operator Sol Jason Moon Charged with Sexual Battery (5.00)

  25. Ga. Tech Professor Roozbeh Kangari Retires Amid Theft Accusations (5.00)

  26. 62-Year-Old Lettie Robinson Dragged From MARTA Bus (5.00)

  27. Pregnant Woman Daysha Brock Fatally Shot; Baby Dies After Delivery (5.00)

  28. No Bond for Butts Co. Murder Suspect Herman Jackson, III (5.00)

  29. Police: Gang Members Stole PlayStation In SpongeBob Backpack (5.00)

  30. Delta Employees Attacked On MARTA Train in Downtown Atlanta (5.00)

  31. Murder Suspect Deanthony Hartsfield Captured After Year On Run (5.00)

  32. Parents accused of leaving 2-year-old alone in park (5.00)

  33. 4th Person Surrenders In Shooting That Killed 13-Year-Old (5.00)

  34. 15-Year-Old Held In Girlfriend Angel Freeman's Killing; Gun Found In Creek (5.00)

  35. KSU Student Lawrence Ogunnowo Killed In Rollover Crash On I-575 (5.00)

  36. Georgia Immigration Attorney Parmesh Dixit Faces Fraud Charges (5.00)

  37. Ice Cripples Metro Roads in Atlanta, Highways Are 'Impassable' (5.00)

  38. Girl, 16, dies weighing just 40lb after being 'starved by her food-obsessed mother' (5.00)

  39. 2 women April Brown, Michelle Brooks-Powell sought in state, federal tax scam (5.00)

  40. Police: Teen Paul Sampleton Jr shot to death at home in Grayson (5.00)

  41. Newnan Mom Alonna McCrary and her four children die in horrific house fire (5.00)

  42. Former KSU employee Gerald Donaldson accused of defrauding state (5.00)

  43. List of those indicted in APS cheating scandal for racketeering and theft (5.00)

  44. Teens Jekari Strozier, Antonio Pass, Johnathan Anthony, Kemonta Bonds charged in death of Mableton man (5.00)

  45. SEARCH: 24-hour jail bookings for Savannah-Chatham County (5.00)

  46. Long County deputy arrested on child cruelty charges (5.00)

  47. Mother of shooting victim speaks out (5.00)

  48. 12-year-old boy suspended from school for 'making hit-list' of classmates, teachers, and family members after possible bullying (5.00)

  49. MacDill airman Rashida G. Williams held without bond on second-degree murder charge (5.00)

  50. Augusta couple face drug charges (5.00)

 
  • Email to a friend Email to a friend
  • Print version Print version
  • Plain text Plain text

Rate this article

0

Photo Galleries

PHOTOS: Plastic Surgery Celebrity Awkward family photos 
 
UPDATED: Faces of Meth PHOTOS: Celebrities all a-Twitter

More galleries ››

 
 
 
 
Weather for Atlanta, GA, US
Now
54°F
Windchill: 54°F
Partly Cloudy
Georgia Weather
Mon
High: 77°F
Low: 56°F
Mostly Sunny
Georgia Weather
Tue
High: 77°F
Low: 52°F
PM Thunderstorms
Georgia Weather