Washington, D.C. — Congress recently improved the way we pay for fighting wildfires, but that fix also created new loopholes in bedrock environmental protections that could increase fire threats and put rural communities at risk, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.
The change approved in March could free up $1.3 billion annually for fighting forest fires, a welcome change over the old practice of forcing the U.S. Forest Service to borrow money from other programs.
As Senate lawmakers meet Wednesday to consider the latest farm bill, CAP is out with a list of recommendations for Congress, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Interior Department to ensure that this new policy is used wisely and makes real progress toward protecting communities and restoring resilient forests.
The report recommends that Congress:
- Give federal land agencies real planning and budgeting tools—not legislated loopholes from bedrock environmental laws—to manage for public safety and ecological health
- Increase staffing for nonfire positions so that federal agencies can support conservation, outdoor recreation, and other projects that have received less attention because of fire borrowing
- Support neighboring economies and create local jobs by allocating a greater proportion of seasonal and project-specific contracts to local firms
- Invest in better data on wildfire potential, watershed condition, and ecosystem health to inform both agencies and the public
- Create incentives for innovative, sustainable timber products that utilize the wood produced by sound forest restoration practices
- Protect communities from wildfire by passing effective local and state policies that encourage wildfire preparedness and reduce risk
“Now that Congress has freed up much-needed funding to fight wildfire, let’s ensure we invest in the health of our forests responsibly,” said Ryan Richards, senior policy analyst for Public Lands at CAP. “It’s time for a smarter approach to forest management aimed at sustaining broader ecological health and rural communities.”
Read the report: Defining Success for the Wildlife Funding Fix by Ryan Richards
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