Saturday, February 22, 2020

Cabinet officials urge Congress to boost wildfire-prevention funds

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Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan urged Congress in a letter on Tuesday to alter its funding approach to wildfires by investing more in forest and rangeland restoration to make these areas less vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires and more resilient when they occur.

"Restoring resilient forests helps to protect against future fire outbreaks and is vital to minimizing long-term costs to lives, private and public properties, and to struggling rural economies,” Vilsack said. “Under the current budget structure, we are forced to abandon these critical restoration and capital-improvement projects in order to suppress these few but extreme fires."

The USDA told Congress on Monday that it needs $250 million in additional funds to fight wildfires for the rest of 2015, with the U.S. Forest Service having spent a record $243 million on fire suppression in one week in August. Vilsack, Jewell and Donovan are urging Congress to fund measures that would restore resilient forests, minimizing long-term costs and future outbreaks.

"The president's budget and a bipartisan group in Congress recognize this and have a common-sense solution – treat catastrophic wildfires like the natural disasters they are,” Jewell said. “Congress can stop this perpetual downward spiral that each year increases fire risk and jeopardizes critical resources that support prevention and recovery efforts."

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U.S. Department of Agriculture

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