Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday that about $400 million to $500 million in projects will have to be put on hold in what has become a routine exercise toward the end of the fiscal year. He predicted that the money set aside strictly for firefighting will run out by the end of August.There are about 30 large fires raging now in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Thunderstorms this week threaten to touch off more every day. There are at least two months left in this fire season. In remote areas in the Mountain West, fires often burn until the first snow in late October. Republicans being Republicans, spending money on the science of, and activities for, preventing wildfires doesn't matter. Because they have a much simpler plan: Cut down all the trees.
"When we begin to run out of money we have to dip into the very programs that will reduce the risk of these fires over time," Vilsack said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press.
The House Budget Committee, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, has said it would be better to work within existing spending caps to fully fund both the firefighting efforts and prevention work.AP reports that the Forest Service has had to steal about $950 million from other funds to respond to wildfires, and that over the past 12 years, they've had to take about $3.2 billion from wildfire prevention. So it's very likely that the prevention money they didn't spend 12 years ago is burning up somewhere in the West today.
That would mean finding savings through other Department of Agriculture and Interior programs. House Republicans also argue that a bill they passed last year requiring greater timber harvesting on federal lands could help reduce the amount of money needed for fire prevention efforts. The administration opposed that bill saying it undermined several laws and rules established to protect the environment.