Deputy Interior Secretary Mike Connor will visit the National Interagency Fire Center Tuesday to meet with leaders of the federal fire leadership team.
Connor, who is also in Boise to participate on a panel on water policy with former Interior Secretary and Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, will get briefings on the current fire situation, increasing costs of wildland fire and the challenges presented by a changing climate. Connor’s visit comes after Congress failed to send a bill, modeled on the current disaster cap that funds FEMA and disaster programs, which would keep fire fighting from robbing other programs including proactive fuels management and restoration programs.
The proposal tracks closely with legislation authored by Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho and Reps Mike Simpson of Idaho, a Republican and Kurt Schrader of Oregon, a Democrat.
The Obama administration reported last week that the Forest Service's firefighting appropriation has rapidly risen from 16 percent in 1995 to 42 percent of its total budget. Funding for vegetation and watershed management has been cut by 22 percent since 2001.
Maintenance and capital improvement on 21,600 recreation sites and 23,100 research and other administrative buildings has been reduced by two-thirds since 2001. Recreation, heritiage and wilderness funding has been cut by 13 percent, wildlife and fisheries by 17 percent and research funding declined by over $36 million in the 10 year period ending in 2013.
Fire staffing has increased 110 percent since 1998, but regular management jobs decreased 35 percent over the same period.
Even though Idaho and the northern Rockies have experienced a rather mild fire season, California, Oregon and Washington have been hit hard. NIFC Predictive Services anticipate that above normal fire potential will continue across much of the West Coast states in August and through most of September.