Congressional moves make sense

To the Journal editor:

Battling wildfires across our country takes a toll here in Michigan, even if those fires don’t often hit close to home.

At a price of more than $2.4 billion so far, the government has spent more money fighting fires this year than during any other wildfire season on record. And while earthquakes, floods, and other disasters spend emergency funds for damages and recovery, wildfire disaster costs come directly from federal agency budgets.

When the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior create their annual budgets, they plan based on past fire seasons’ averages. But each new season is proving to be anything but average.

This way of paying for firefighting forces federal agencies to choose between putting the fires out or fulfilling their responsibilities to manage their lands and provide recreational programming. While the first priority is understandably to save lives and property, this funding method means that agencies borrow money from programs like recreation and forest health to make up budget shortfalls. But it’s that conservation work — such as restoring forests and removing brush — that helps reduce the risk of fire in the first place.

It makes no sense for firefighting come at the expense of projects that make our lands less fire-prone. We need to break out of this cycle, and Congress holds the keys to a solution. The Senate this fall introduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, and the House of Representatives introduced a similar bill this summer. The Senate also added a fire-funding solution to a flood insurance bill.

At The Nature Conservancy we support these approaches; they can’t be enacted soon enough. We are collaborating with a broad coalition — ranging from sportsmen’s groups to other environmental organizations — to demonstrate the broad bipartisan support out there for these bills.

You can help, too, by telling your members of Congress that a wildfire funding fix is important to you.

We know that firefighting costs will keep rising, and that under the current funding structure, the U.S. government can’t keep up. We need to not only fight wildfires, but also fund conservation programs to keep our forests healthy and resilient — that is the best way to protect our land, property, and people in Michigan and across America.

Helen Taylor, state director

The Nature Conservancy

State of Michigan