Bill Addressing Wildfire Funding Crisis Introduced in US House, Senate

For Immediate Release

The Wilderness Society
Contact: 

Christopher Lancette, TWS communications director, (202) 429-2692;
chris_lancette@tws.org

Bill Addressing Wildfire Funding Crisis Introduced in US House, Senate

New administration means better chance of success for FLAME Act

WASHINGTON - Like the mythological Phoenix
rising from the ashes, the House of Representatives and the Senate today
re-introduced a bill aimed at solving a critical part of America's wildfire
suppression funding crisis. The Federal Land Assistance, Management and
Enhancement (FLAME) Act is designed to help federal agencies address the
escalating cost of suppressing wildfires. It would also relieve the burden
placed on other vital programs and services each year when the agencies pull
money away from them to fight fires.

Passed unanimously by the House last year but stalled
in the Senate, the 2009 version of the bill is considered to have a much better
chance of becoming law because President Barack Obama and even more members of
Congress from both sides of the aisle favor its principles. FLAME Act's
key sponsors already include: Nick J. Rahall (D-West Virginia), Raul Grijalva
(D-Arizona); Norm Dicks (D-Washington); Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Greg Walden
(R-Oregon). Senate sponsors include Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), Lisa
Murkowski (R-Alaska), Barbara Boxer (D-California), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Tom
Udall (D-New Mexico), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Patty Murray
(D-Washington), Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) and Jon Tester (D-Montana).

"The
FLAME Act provides the right framework for managing fire suppression without
putting it on the backs of other programs," said William H. Meadows,
president of The Wilderness Society. "This embodies the real-world
budgeting process favored by the new Administration at a time when the strains of global warming
are extending the dangers of the wildfire season driving up the costs of
suppression."

Specifically,
the measure would create a reserve account that the Forest Service and
Department of Interior could tap if they exhaust their firefighting budgets.
This would prevent the annual practice of taking money away from other vital
programs and services in order to fund wildfire suppression. Campground
maintenance, land acquisition and watershed restoration are just a few examples
of agency tasks that are placed in jeopardy each year.

Meanwhile,
the cost
of suppressing fires has grown enormously
in recent years and projections
indicate that this trend will only increase as a result of climate change and
increasingly populated wooded areas. For example, the Forest Service has spent
over $1 billion per year in five of the last seven years to extinguish
fires. Wildland fire management activities (the largest component of which
is suppression) rose from 13 percent of the agency's budget in fiscal
year 1991 to close to 50 percent in fiscal year 2008.

"The
FLAME Act isn't a silver bullet but it is a step in the right direction
on getting firefighting costs under control," said Cecilia Clavet,
a national forest policy analyst with The Wilderness Society (TWS), which is
working with National Association of State Foresters and American Forests in
organizing a coalition of 100 diverse groups in developing recommendation that
help solve the fire funding problem. "With longer fire seasons on the
horizon, we cannot continue to bankrupt the agencies every year at the expense
of protecting and promoting the values all Americans have come to expect from
their public lands."

The 2009 bill builds on the bipartisan support
generated last year. In 2008, the bill was endorsed by the five former Forest
Service chiefs, American Forests,
National Association of State Foresters,
National Association of Counties, National Federation of Federal Employees, the Western Governor's Association, and
nearly 40 other conservation and community-based and forestry
organizations. 

Additional Contacts:

Laura
Schweitzer
Director
of Forest Policy
American
Forests
(202)
737-1944 ext.219

Caitlyn
Peel
Council
of Western State Foresters/
NASF
Fire Suppression Staff Contact
(303)
445-4363

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The Wilderness Society's mission is to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places.

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