As wildfires burn across the western states, the federal government plans on spending less for preventative programs. Beginning next fall, President Obama has proposed a 31 percent decrease in the Hazardous Fuels Reduction Program.
The program, run jointly by the Forest Service and Interior Department, removes dead trees and flammable underbrush that choke western forests, according to an Associated Press report. “Because the fires have gotten bigger and bigger, we’ve spent more of our money on suppression and less on fuel removal,” Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) told the AP. “We’ve gotten behind the eight-ball on this.”
A combination of constrained budgets and the growing costs of battling fires across the country have limited the federal government’s abilities to clear brush and debris effectively, according to the AP. The U.S. Forest Service reports that next year they expect to clear 1 million fewer acres than last year.
Wildfires have grown in intensity and cost around the country due to a combination of high temperatures, drought, pine-killing beetle infestations and the rise of people living closer to nature, according to the AP. Since the 1990’s, 15 to 17 million new homes have been built in fire danger zones.
“It’s a wicked public policy question,” Tom Harbour, the Forest Service’s director of fire and aviation management told the AP. “We’ve got to make trade-offs. We’re living in a time of constrained budgets.”
This year’s automatic sequestration budget cuts have reduced funding to the Hazardous Fuels Reduction Program from $500 million to $419 million, according to the AP. The further cuts proposed will leave $292 million for next year.
Colorado’s recent Black Forest Fire killed two people, destroyed more than 500 structures and burned over 16,000-acres, according to CNN. Though that fire is now 100 percent contained, Reuters reports Colorado fires near Utah and New Mexico are threatening oil wells, homes and lives.
In neighboring Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a declaration of emergency Thursday freeing up $100,000 and authorizing the National Guard to help control the fires threatening her state.
Last year, 9.3 million acres burned with 51 separate fires covering more than 40,000 acres each, according to the AP.
Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, Texas and Utah have all seen fires in the past six years that set records for size and destruction, according to the AP.