Fairfax, Va. – Testifying before a House Agriculture Committee panel, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) this week reaffirmed its strong support of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and urged the administration and Congress to address the increasing cost of wildland fire suppression.
Fire Chief Erik Litzenberg, Santa Fe (N.M.) Fire Department, testified October 8 before the House Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry (pdf) on behalf of the IAFC, where he chairs the Wildland Fire Policy Committee. The hearing, chaired by Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-Pa.), reviewed the 2015 fire season and long-term trends of forest fires.
The IAFC is a strong supporter National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy which brings together local, tribal, state, federal, and nongovernmental partners to address the wildland fire problem. Litzenberg said the key is to tackle the problem of wildland fire through fire suppression, community preparedness and land management and offered three IAFC recommendations to Congress:
- support fire suppression efforts through effective funding and equipment procurement policies
- assist in developing fire adapted communities by supporting outreach and education efforts
- address land management issues as a long-term solution to the wildland fire problem
“Almost every year, the cost of wildland fire suppression exceeds the appropriated amounts in the USDA’s and DOI’s wildland fire management accounts,” Litzenberg testified. “As a result, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Interior (DIO) are forced to undertake a practice known as ‘fire borrowing,’ where funds are transferred from non-suppression accounts to fire suppression accounts. The IAFC is greatly concerned that this is a dangerous practice. Fire borrowing is a short-term solution with severe long-term consequences.”
In his testimony, Litzenberg encouraged Congress to develop a bipartisan funding reform proposal which will prohibit fire borrowing, fund the USDA’s and DOI’s wildland fire suppression accounts at 100% of the ten-year average cost of wildland fire suppression, and allow any costs above the ten-year average to be funded through an adjustment to the disaster assistance cap.
“Additionally, Congress must ensure than any savings generated by this reform are directly re-invested into wildland fire prevention and community preparedness programs,” he said.
Wildland fires impacted every state in the nation at a great cost. They burned roughly 3.6 million acres and cost the federal government more than $3.9 billion to extinguish. Local fire departments respond to all wildland fire incidents. Local fire departments provide the initial attack for nearly 80% of all wildland fires. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that local fire departments provide more than $36 billion per year in wildland fire suppression assistance.
Read the IAFC’s full testimony (pdf).