U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer Urges Colleagues to Support President's Emergency Supplemental Request to Fight Wildfires
More than 4,000 Wildfires Have Burned More than 52,000 Acres in California this Year
July 31, 2014 - Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) yesterday submitted a statement for the record urging her colleagues to support President Obama’s emergency supplemental request to fight wildfires.
“As our fire seasons become longer, hotter, and endanger more communities, we must act now to change how wildfire suppression is funded so that we can reduce fire risk and increase the resiliency of the nation's public lands, forests, and the surrounding communities,” Senator Boxer said.
Fire seasons are now 60-80 days longer than they were three decades ago across the country and in places like Southern California, the fire seasons never ends. Additionally, the cost of fighting wildfires increased from $200 million in 1986 to $1.7 billion in 2013, and during that time, the number of acres burned each year increased from 2.7 million to 4.3 million.
This year’s fire season has been particularly difficult for California. The state has experienced a 35 percent increase in fire activity and a 16 percent increase in acres burned, compared to an average year – resulting in more than 4,000 wildfires that have burned more than 52,000 acres. California firefighters are currently battling 5 different large fires, including the Sand Fire, which has burned more than four thousand acres east of Sacramento and has destroyed nineteen homes.
Senator Boxer continued, “I urge my colleagues to support this emergency supplemental funding and address the growing crisis of wildfires.”
The full text of Senator Boxer’s statement follows:
Mr. President, I rise today to speak in support of the President’s emergency supplemental request of $615 million to fight wildfires throughout the United States.
We have witnessed increasingly large and devastating wildfires over the last few decades.
Nationwide, the costs of fighting wildfires has increased from $200 million in 1986 to $1.7 billion in 2013. In that same time, the amount of acres burned has increased from 2.7 million acres in 1986 to 4.3 million acres in 2013.
In many parts of the U.S., fire seasons are now 60-80 days longer compared to three decades ago and in some places like Southern California, the fire season never ends.
This is leading to seasonal firefighters being hired several months earlier than normal and federal agencies spending more to make sure our firefighters are prepared and have the necessary resources available for the entire year.
So far this year, California has experienced a 35% increase in fire activity and a 16% increase in acres burned over an average year. These alarming statistics translate to more than 4,000 wildfires in my state already that have burned more than 52,000 acres since the beginning of the year.
Right now, brave firefighters in California are battling five different large fires. The largest is the Sand Fire, which has burned over 4,000 acres east of Sacramento. This fire has already destroyed 19 homes.
Although it has already been an unprecedented fire season in California, we are not at all out of danger yet as the significant wildland fire potential remains above normal for most of the state through October of this year. It is also above normal in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, and parts of Arizona.
Adding to the difficulty of battling these enormous fires is the constrained fire suppression budget we are currently operating under.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior announced that wildfire-fighting costs this summer are projected to run about $400 million over budget.
In fact, since 2002, the United States has overspent its wildfire suppression budget every year except one -- and in three of those years, went over the suppression budget by nearly a billion dollars. This chronic underfunding of our firefighting accounts cannot continue.
When we fail to budget for fire suppression, the Forest Service and the Department of Interior are forced to transfer money from fire prevention accounts to make up the difference. That makes no sense!
We are taking money from the very programs that help reduce the threat of wildfires -- such as hazardous fuel removal programs.
In my state, plans to remove dry brush and dead trees in the Tahoe National Forest and the Plumas National Forest have been delayed because wildfire prevention funding is not available.
The President’s supplemental request not only adds funding for fire suppression during this fiscal year, it solves the problem in the future by creating a Wildfire Suppression Cap Adjustment so that extraordinary fire costs are treated in the same way as destructive hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes are funded.
This means that money to fight the largest fires would not be subject to discretionary budget caps much like FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund.
As our fire seasons become longer, hotter, and endanger more communities, we must act now to change how wildfire suppression is funded so that we can reduce fire risk and increase the resiliency of the nation's public lands, forests, and the surrounding communities.
I urge my colleagues to support this emergency supplemental funding and address the growing crisis of wildfires.