Friday, April 18, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

As fires rage, feds cut funding on prevention

APTOPIX Colorado Wildfires

Brandy Burton carries her son Caiyleb Lewis, 2, through the rubble of her family's home that was completely destroyed in the Black Forest Fire, Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Residents were allowed back into the area for a short period of time to view the properties that sustained the most damage from the fire. The Black Forest Fire, the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, has destroyed 502 homes and charred more than 22 square miles. It was 85 percent contained Tuesday. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Michael Ciaglo) MAGS OUT

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — As the West battles one catastrophic wildfire after another, the federal government is spending less and less on its main program for preventing blazes in the first place.

A combination of government austerity and the ballooning cost of battling the ruinous fires has taken a bite out of federal efforts to remove the dead trees and flammable underbrush that clog Western forests. The U.S. Forest Service says that next year it expects to treat 1 million fewer acres than it did last year.

In real, inflation-adjusted dollars, the government is spending less on the Hazardous Fuels Reduction Program, run jointly by the Forest Service and the Interior Department, than it did in 2002. And President Barack Obama has proposed a 31 percent cut for the fiscal year that begins in the fall.

“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., said in an interview. “We’ve gotten behind the eight-ball on this.”

Federal firefighting officials say there is no question the program prevents some fires and makes others less dangerous to homeowners and firefighters alike. But they say they are caught in a bind.

“It’s a wicked public policy question,” said Tom Harbour, the Forest Service’s director of fire and aviation management. “We’ve got to make trade-offs. We’re living in a time of constrained budgets.”

Wildfires have grown in intensity and cost across the nation because of a combination of high temperatures, drought, an infestation of pine-killing beetles, and the rising number of people living close to nature. Since the 1990s, 15 million to 17 million new homes have been built in dangerous fire zones, according to a government report.

The Forest Service says it must clear flammable materials from at least 65 million acres to tamp down the danger. The federal government is the primary landlord in the western United States, with responsibility for maintaining much of the open lands that burn during fire season.

Eight of the nine worst fire seasons on record in the U.S., as measured in acres burned, have occurred since 2000, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

Last year, 9.3 million acres burned, with 51 separate fires of more than 40,000 acres each. Colorado suffered its most destructive season in history as a blaze on the edge of Colorado Springs destroyed 347 homes. That record stood for less than a year: Last week, a wildfire just outside Colorado Springs devastated at least 502 homes and killed two people.

Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia New Mexico, Texas and Utah also have seen fires in the past six years that set records for size or destructiveness.

Meanwhile, the Hazardous Fuels Reduction Program has seen funding go from $421 million in 2002 to $500 million last year. When those numbers are adjusted for inflation, it is actually a slight decrease. This year’s automatic budget cuts have reduced the funding even further to $419 million. The Obama administration is proposing to slash the total to $292 million next year.

That’s frustrated Western lawmakers, who pushed to include an extra $200 million to clear downed trees and other potential fire fuels in the version of the farm bill that passed the Senate earlier this year. But it’s unclear whether the provision will clear the House.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this month that putting out fires is consuming an increasing share of his agency’s budget.

In 1991, fighting fires accounted for 13 percent of the Forest Service budget; last year it was 40 percent, Tidwell said. The number of staffers dedicated to firefighting has gone up 110 percent since 1998, while the rest of the staff has shrunk by 35 percent, he said. The agency’s overall budget, in inflation-adjusted dollars, is 10 percent lower than in 2001.

At the hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., blamed the Obama administration’s budget office for not believing in the value of fire prevention.

“This waltz has gone on long enough,” Wyden said.

The government has other programs that lower fire danger, including letting ranchers graze their livestock on grassland and routine forest maintenance. But even those have become victims of the growing cost of fighting fires.

During last year’s tough fire season, the Forest Service overspent its firefighting budget by $440 million. To close the gap, it borrowed from other accounts, including $40 million in brush clearance funds, according to Forest Service documents.

Congress eventually replenished those funds, but by then it was long after the work should have been completed, said Christopher Topik of the Nature Conservancy. He noted that a 2004 congressional report found that borrowing money disrupted critical fire prevention programs.

Last year, the Forest Service treated or restored 4.4 million acres, according to agency records. Next year that is projected to drop to 3.5 million. The number of acres treated for hazardous fuels is projected to fall from 1.8 million last year to 685,000 next year. Harbour said the agency is focusing on heavily populated areas, which are more expensive to treat.

A study for the Interior Department found it is more cost-effective to try to prevent fires than to just extinguish them once they erupt.

In a 2010 blaze in Arizona, for example, researchers found that the fire cost about $135 million. They calculated that every dollar spent on basic prevention, such as trimming dead branches and carting out downed trees, could have saved $10 in firefighting costs.

One of the study’s co-authors, Diane Vosick of Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute, likened the removal of old and easily ignitable trees – whether by prescribed burns or mechanical harvesting – to vaccinating people against a deadly disease.

“We know what to do and the investment up front is much easier than the aftermath, which the poor people of Colorado are dealing with right now,” Vosick said.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

‘Same Time, Next Year’ opens in Benicia

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
‘We Got Next’ Comedy Tour stops at Dimitri’s

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

Man to stand trial in rural Vacaville killing

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A1, 2 Comments | Gallery

 
Puppies to take part in Vallejo dog show

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Afisivalu announces run for Fairfield council

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Tonnesen seeks Fairfield City Council seat

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3 | Gallery

Family matriarch celebrates 100th birthday

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Barbecue brings big crowd, progress to Parkway Gardens

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3, 1 Comment | Gallery

Assist-A-Grad wraps up interviews

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Night closures possible at Merchant Street ramp

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A4

Napa County bridge to close for work

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A4

 
Town hall on crime set in Fairfield

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Crash shuts I-80 offramp to Highway 12

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Suisun City police log: April 16, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
Fairfield police log: April 16, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Weather for April 18, 2014

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B12

 
.

US / World

Putin’s choice of words shed light on Ukraine

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Who gained, and what, at Ukraine talks

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Ukrainian unity on display with peaceful rallies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Deal reached on calming Ukraine tensions – for now

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Salmon released in California river restoration

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
Astronomers spot most Earth-like planet yet

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Jury convicts husband in Iraqi woman’s death

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
1 dead, 1 injured in California boating accident

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

BART fined $210,000 for worker deaths

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Military shell prompted evacuation of hundreds

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

California health care sign-ups exceed projections

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Obama: 8 million signed up for health care

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

Dirty creek, old purse solve four-decade mystery

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Man said to be homesick for prison gets 3 1/2 years

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

Chelsea Clinton expecting first child this fall

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

 
Holder: Hate crimes ‘an affront to who we are’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

Peru volcano prompts evacuation of 4,000

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Nigeria: Fate of 115 abducted girls unknown

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Spate of Mideast virus infections raises concerns

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Samples collected from oil slick not from plane

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

S. Sudan: 12 die after mob attacks UN base

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

Confused, chaotic scene described on sinking ferry

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
.

Opinion

Food brings back fond memories

By Bud Stevenson | From Page: A11

 
Is Jeb Bush too old school for the new GOP?

By Doyle Mcmanus | From Page: A11, 1 Comment

Internationally out of touch

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11

 
Watch out for grandson scam

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 3 Comments

Why so much spent to find a plane?

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11

 
Editorial Cartoons for April 18, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

.

Living

Today in History for April 18, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: April 18, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

My husband tells our sons that they don’t need to listen to me

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B13

 
Horoscopes for April 18, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B13

.

Entertainment

 
Week in preview April 18-24, 2014

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

Review: ‘Heaven Is for Real’ heartfelt but dull

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Lost radio program featuring Hank Williams found

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
‘Real Housewives’ TV star faces battery charge

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Ill, hospitalized Miley Cyrus postpones more shows

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Entertainment calendar April 18, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: B4

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

.

Sports

Dodgers get to Bumgarner early for win over Giants

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Badminton update: Rodriguez, Armijo head toward post season

By Brian Arnold | From Page: B7 | Gallery

MEL boys roll to easy win over SCAC

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Short-handed SCAC girls ‘gut out’ all-star win over MEL

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B7 | Gallery

Sharks beat Kings 6-3 in Game 1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Dodgers’ Puig focuses on baseball despite issues

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Miguel Angel Jimenez set for Champions Tour debut

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

 
Sponsorship woes put Swan Racing future in doubt

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Ex-quarterback McNabb spends day in Arizona jail

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Season wrapup: Sacramento Kings’ ‘new era’ off to slow start

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

 
Clippers-Warriors series billed as must-see TV

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Kuchar builds on Masters momentum, shares Heritage lead

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

 
War of words in Northwestern-athletes’ union fight

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Shumenov gets big chance in ring against ageless Hopkins

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Montreal team sign Chad Johnson to 2-year contract

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Seattle 1B Choi banned 50 games for positive test

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Boston Marathon makes room for more runners

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

Stanford takes lead at LPGA LOTTE tournament

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Vanden clinches at least share of SCAC boys tennis title

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B10

 
.

Business

Toyota Camry gets a top-to-bottom makeover

By The Associated Press | From Page: C1

 
Hot models at this year’s New York Auto Show

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

Judge won’t order recalled GM cars to be parked

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Cyber cops: Target hackers may take years to find

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

Walmart jumps into the money transfer biz, loudly

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
.

Obituaries

Sealwyn Shirley Brucefield Shepherd Malkiewicz

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B13

 
Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B13

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B13

 
Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B13

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B13