The six living former Chiefs of the U.S. Forest Service have jointly signed a letter to the U.S. House and Senate majority and minority leaders urging them to fix the fire borrowing mess that annually sabotages the agency’s ability to treat diseased and dying National Forests before catastrophic wildfires destroy them.
We have been harping about this crisis for 20 years. Last summer’s carnage – 58,000 wildfires and 9.3 million acres incinerated – is a precursor of things to come. Some 80 million National Forest acres are now in what fire ecologists call “Condition Class 3,” meaning they are ready to burn. An estimated 70,000 rural communities lay in harm’s way. 70,000.
“This is not an anomaly,” the Chiefs write. “The National Forests are in crisis.”
Congress requires the Forest Service to borrow money from its forest management budgets to pay its firefighting costs. Those costs – more than $2 billion in 2017 – consumed more than half the agency’s entire annual budget. No wonder so little preventive restoration work is done.
It’s time to separate firefighting and its costs from forest restoration and its costs. Let’s hold hearings in an airtight glass enclosure in which air quality matches last summer’s Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake, Montana. Shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes, 15 at the most.
Meantime, here’s the letter the Chiefs signed.