Talkfest about “Large Wildland Fires”

This conference is going on this week in Missoula.  With this many events and speakers I would like to think that someone would talk about the legal and administrative framework for making decisions about fire prevention and management on national forest lands.  That would be the National Forest Management Act and land management plans.  Specifically the law’s requirement that “resource plans” (fire plans) and projects (fuel treatments and fire suppression actions) “shall be consistent with the land management plans.”   The new planning rule also requires that development of plan components consider “wildland fire and opportunities to restore fire adapted ecosystems.”  Someone should maybe be thinking and talking about how revised forest plans should plan for fire (where we want what on a national forest).

Does anyone in the fire profession care about this?  Apparently the ‘counter-culture’ does – Professor Richard Hutto will talk about “It’s Time to Integrate the Ecological Benefits and Necessity of Severe Fire in National Fire and Forest Management Plans.”  There’s also one (1) presentation by Forest Service fire staff that sounds like it could talk about the decision-making process on national forests: “Integrating Fuel Treatments in Land Management Planning and Wildfire Incident Response.”  I hope that someone who knows something about the Forest Service planning process has been involved.

10 Comments

  1. From Environment & Energy Daily today:

    Vilsack says NGOs educating Congress on need for funding overhaul

    Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
    Published: Wednesday, May 21, 2014

    DENVER — Conservationists, sportsmen and forest users are helping the Obama administration lobby Congress to overhaul how the government funds wildfire fighting, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said yesterday.

    Vilsack said he met recently with about 75 groups invested in the president’s fiscal 2015 budget request to fund some wildfires using disaster dollars, a proposal aimed at shielding programs like logging and restoration from having their funds raided to fight fires.

    “It’s a matter of educating,” Vilsack said yesterday at an event at the History Colorado Center downtown.

    Vilsack also announced the availability of four new wildfire aircraft and the selection of 45 million acres for potential streamlined forest treatments (E&ENews PM, May 20).

    But treating those forests to withstand insects and disease in the face of a changing climate will require stable funding that cannot be tapped if the agency runs out of wildfire money, he said.

    Over the past two years, costly wildfire seasons have caused more than $1 billion to be transferred from other forestry accounts. The agency anticipates running $470 million short this year, which can halt current forestry projects in their tracks.

    “Right now, you can’t count on that money, so you can’t spend it, and you don’t spend it,” Vilsack said.

    Vilsack said he’d recently met with Trout Unlimited, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Nature Conservancy and the National Wild Turkey Federation, among many others, to discuss the Obama proposal.

    “They have pledged their willingness to work collaboratively with us to explain to members of Congress that this really isn’t about more money,” he said. “It really is about budgeting it in a way that provides predictability.”

    In addition, Vilsack said he’d touted the plan personally in a conversation with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) about forest restoration funding in Arizona.

    While the proposal carries broad support from conservationists, sportsmen, miners, loggers and the bipartisan Western Governors’ Association and is backed by Republican House appropriators, it faces some powerful critics including House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), whose support would also be key, have not registered a position.

    A key question is whether the proposal would result in more federal spending.

    The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office earlier this month said clearly the proposal “would not authorize additional funding for wildfire suppression activities” and “would have no effect on the federal budget” (E&E Daily, May 13).

    But it also speculated that it could make it easier for Congress to exceed spending limits set by the Budget Control Act in future years if lawmakers so choose.

    Twitter: @philipataylor | Email: ptaylor@eenews.net

    • It’s interesting how this is laid out in E&E news..”NGO’s educating Congress” compared to this in the Denver Post
      Discussion of wildfires sure to dominate Western Governors’ Association meeting in Colorado Springs

      Back in February a group of Western governors, including Hickenlooper, Republican Govs. Jan Brewer of Arizona and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, traveled to the Washington, D.C., and met with President Barack Obama to express their concerns about drought and what the federal government can do to help Western states.

      If I were writing the story the western governors would nost be an aside, just sayin’.

      As the E&E reporter said…

      While the proposal carries broad support from conservationists, sportsmen, miners, loggers and the bipartisan Western Governors’ Association ..

      I wonder if there’s a connection between being the “Environmental News” and environmental groups being the heroes of the story…

  2. We have seen the post-fire results of severe wildfires in Colorado, with the unstoppable flooding damage. Severe wildfire isn’t good for human “habitats”, and those extend far beyond just the narrow WUI’s that preservationists want. Yes, humans also have “nesting” habitat and “foraging” habitat but, we do need BOTH, just like owls and goshawks.

  3. Re: “The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office earlier this month said clearly the proposal “would not authorize additional funding for wildfire suppression activities” and “would have no effect on the federal budget””

    OOOooooppps – Once again, we have much talk about nothing.

    • Once again, it’s helpful to read the source document.

      The reason that CBO says that spending more on firefighting “would have no effect on the federal budget” is because “disaster” spending is an exception to the federal budget’s normal “caps.” In other words, funding firefighting as a “disaster” simply removes firefighting from the budget altogether.

      • AndyS

        I respectfully disagree with your statement “funding firefighting as a “disaster” simply removes firefighting from the budget altogether”. It is still a part of the federal budget. The second page of both bills state that wildfire is still being budgeted at the departmental level but the Federal budget also includes a disaster relief slush fund that can be accessed when the departmental budget is exceeded so that the department doesn’t have to raid other budgeted funds for sound forest management. Do you have a contradictory document that states something to the effect of ‘all departmental wildfire budgets will be removed from the departmental budget and placed in the disaster relief budget’?

        As to your chastisement, there was no link to your document was there? In fact, the source documents are the bills themselves. So, if I was guilty, I would be merely guilty of assuming that phrases like “would not authorize additional funding for wildfire suppression activities” mean what they literally say and, if there is no additional funding, then by definition it “would have no effect on the federal budget” for a given year/budget. But the facts are that your document and the bills agree with what the E&E reporter quoted. I totally dismissed the speculation: “But it also speculated that it could make it easier for Congress to exceed spending limits set by the Budget Control Act in future years if lawmakers so choose.” In fact, there is no such speculation in the CBO letter so I have no idea where the E&E reporter got that from.

        Where I was mislead was in the lack of context as to the fact that year over year spending could increase which was what the bills were really about. That is good news and cause for me to withdraw my previous comment of May 21st.

        The PROPOSED bills. S. 1875 & H.R. 3992 read exactly the same. They would allow YEAR OVER YEAR INCREASES in the wildfire discretionary budget as determined by a formula with a cap of $2.689 billion a year thereby amending the 2011 Budget Control Act. It doesn’t take anything outside of the budget. Discretionary spending is a part of the budget. So as the second paragraph of the CBO letter states “S. 1875 and H.R. 3992 would not authorize additional funding for wildfire suppression activities or appropriate funds for those purposes. Therefore, CBO estimates that enacting either bill, by itself, would have no effect on the federal budget. In addition, because enacting EITHER BILL WOULD NOT AFFECT DIRECT SPENDING or revenues, …”. If it doesn’t affect spending then it doesn’t affect spending FOR THE CURRENT BUDGET YEAR even if it was out of the budget which it isn’t. So the E&E reporter seems to have gotten it right on this point.

        After reading both bills and the CBO letter repeatedly, it seems to me that we are talking about two different things:

        1) ANNUAL BUDGET – The E&E reporter and my interpretation are correct for any budget once it is set. So any spending on wildfires over the departmental wildfire budget will be taken from the disaster relief budget and if the disaster relief budget is exceeded then any additional funds spent on wildfires will have to come from departmental budgets just as is the present case. There is no outside of the budget blank check. In effect, the disaster relief budget is a slush fund that wildfires and other disasters can draw on to a certain point and then they are on their own once again. If another natural disaster wipes out the disaster budget before fire season then the slush fund is empty and the departments are on their own once again. They just can’t magically spend money that wasn’t anywhere in the budget.

        2) YEAR OVER YEAR BUDGET INCREASES – The 2011 Budget Control Act mentioned in the CBO letter deals with year over year policies that set caps on how much a proposed budget can increase over the current year budget. It also defines what is and isn’t exempt from year over year caps. The third to last paragraph states that “CBO expects that upward adjustments in the discretionary caps for wildfire suppression would probably exceed reductions in the caps for disaster relief relative to current law.” This and other parts of the paragraph suggests that the disaster relief budget may be broken down into sub categories like disaster relief budgeted but not yet committed/appropriated to wildfires.

        Finally, the bills (S. 1875 and H.R. 3992) themselves seem to agree that we are not talking about anything being “off budget” and specifically speak to “budget authority”. To inform your representatives as to your opinion on these bills through PopVox please follow these links – I would hope that we can all agree to express our support for these bills:
        S. 1875 – https://www.popvox.com/bills/us/113/s1875
        H.R. 3992 – https://www.popvox.com/bills/us/113/hr3992

        Here are my comments sent to my senate and house members via PopVox:
        “I support _____ because… Sound Forest Management funds intended to reduce the risk of future fires are being used to fight catastrophic fires that are largely a part of the reduction of harvests and sound forest management in our National Forests that began in 1991. That in turn led to excessive stand density, low stand health, excessive fuel build up and the resulting higher risk of loss to fire, drought and insects. Without this act, we will continue to go backwards in our effort to have the healthy, vibrant forest ecosystems that all dependent species in those forests need to survive whether those dependent species are endangered, threatened or not.”

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