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August 20, 2014

Finding a cure for fire borrowing

Failure to prepare for wildfire season with adequate federal funding is akin to skipping a flu shot. The flu is unpleasant and sometimes dangerous, so why not stop by the pharmacy, pay $14.99, and significantly reduce the risk of catching the virus?

Much like the flu vaccine, cheap and effective programs can help mitigate the dangers and costs associated with wildfires. Unfortunately, the federal government has not invested enough into such programs as a result of a practice known as “fire borrowing.” As a result, forests across the United States are more prone to wildfire.

Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management.

Wildfire suppression costs are drawn from the U.S. Forest Service budget, the same pool of money that is responsible for funding wildfire prevention and forest health programs. But as wildfires grow in frequency and severity, so does the cost of putting them out. Congress, however, has steadfastly refused to increase funding for the Forest Service, forcing the agency to “borrow” funds from fire prevention accounts and forest health programs to cover suppression costs.

That’s a lot like saying, “I can’t afford the flu vaccine because I spent so much money on NyQuil.”

Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?

Healthy forests are far less susceptible to wildfires, but programs meant to reduce hazardous fuels buildup and treat unhealthy ecosystems are shortchanged by fire borrowing. Consequently, huge amounts of fire-prone materials are building up on national forests across the West.

Each year, wildfires are becoming more common and increasing in size and severity – and the costs of fighting them are also on the rise. In 1985, wildfire suppression cost about $240 million. In 2012, that number increased to $1.7 billion. While our warming climate, drought and increased development along fire-prone areas contribute to increased wildfire frequency and cost, a major factor is Congress’ refusal to adapt to the growing threat. By taking needed dollars from forestry management and fire prevention programs, appropriators are not investing enough in proven, and much less costly, wildfire “vaccines.”

Click on image for full infographic.

But a sensible solution seems to be emerging at last. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R.3992 in the House and S.1875 in the Senate) was introduced to Congress earlier this year. This bill would enable America’s most catastrophic wildfires to be classified as natural disasters, enabling severe wildfire suppression funds to be drawn from federal emergency accounts – and ending the practice of “fire borrowing” once and for all.

By making commonsense changes to the source of suppression funding, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would restore hundreds of millions of dollars to programs designed for wildfire prevention and forest health. This would result in fewer catastrophic wildfires, healthier forests and wildlife habitat, and it would save billions of federal dollars in the long term.

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Mia Sheppard

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posted in: General

August 19, 2014

Fire Management Needs Funds

Oregon is known for vast landscapes of sagebrush steppe and lush forest. These wide-open countries provide both access and important habitat for numerous species of big game, birds and trout and, consequently, offers outstanding public lands hunting.

These open spaces are at risk with continued spread of noxious weeds that contribute to frequent fire events. Invasive weeds such as cheatgrass a Eurasian exotic, dry quickly, are highly flammable and degrade habitat. This year, dry weather, lightning and fuel sources like cheatgrass has currently resulted in nearly 600, 00 acres burning across Oregon’s landscapes, the cost to fight fires is great for agencies and taxpayers. 2013 was the second most expensive wildfire year on record for the state, with an estimated $183 million going to fighting Oregon’s wildfires.

Courtesy of OR Dept. of Transportation/Kevin Halesworth

According to Oregon Forest Resource Institute; fire suppression, while beneficial in the short term, can have long-term negative effects. The exclusion of natural wildfire can, result in dense, overstocked forests with an overabundance of understory that would normally be removed by natural fires. The cost of thinning one acre of overstocked forestland is $500 while the cost of fighting a fire on that same acre of forestland is $5,000. Also, vital habitat projects are delayed because of lack of funding such as a culvert project in the Siuslaw National Forest. The project cost was $192,000 needed to replace two undersized and failing culverts but deferred to cover suppression cost.

A bipartisan measure sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden and Mike Crapo and cosponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley called for a vote on the Wildfire Disaster Funding that would shift excess fire suppression costs away from the Forest Service budget. Not only would this restore appropriated dollars to programs vital to proper forestry management and wildlife conservation, it would reinvest needed dollars into wildfire prevention programs which would mitigate the risk of these “catastrophic” wildfires.

With persistent droughts, dry forest conditions the West is experiencing a harsh fire season. Currently there are active fires burning in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and California. The administration already estimates that this year’s funding for firefighting will fall short of the costs. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act can help shift those cost. Contact your senators today and ask them to support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act.

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August 13, 2014

Water Conservation Funding is Going Down. But It Could Be Worse.

There’s an old saying that “water flows uphill towards money.” This means that those with the most money usually end up getting the water, even if it means pumping water uphill and over mountain ranges to do it. The saying reflects a frustration many people feel when they lose out to more well-heeled water users, especially in times of drought.

Now, based on an initial review of data in the Sportsmen’s Water Budget, there might be a new corollary that also is especially frustrating in this current drought: “Money for water is going downhill.”

In case you missed the initial launch and description, the “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” tracks federal programs that impact water resources conservation[1] at seven federal agencies: the Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Reclamation, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Each agency has programs that can enhance freshwater resources. They vary widely in goals, focus and size. For example, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund at EPA capitalizes state revolving loans that finance public wastewater system infrastructure improvements. It receives between $1.5 billion and $2 billion each year but only a small portion of that goes to enhancing the freshwater resources hunters and anglers enjoy.

At another end of the spectrum, the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund at FWS is the most important funding mechanism for the conservation of waterfowl habitat across North America. It receives about $35 million each year – nearly 60 times smaller than the CWSRF – but nearly all of that money goes to improving the health and integrity of wetlands.

Such wide discrepancies between programs included in the Sportsmen’s Water Budget means that a top-level analysis of water conservation funding will gloss over important distinctions between agencies and programs.[2] Nevertheless, the aggregate federal investment in water conservation programs can give us a sense of the relative priority water conservation has in federal budget decisions.

Total water conservation spending at seven federal agencies from fiscal year 2010 (FY10) to fiscal year 2014 (FY14) in real dollars.

Here, I look at the baseline years 2010-2014 where we have nearly final spending data, and only consider the total funding for all programs over the five-year period.

Over this period, total water conservation spending has averaged about $6.6 billion per year, with a high of $7.0 billion (2011) and a low of $6.3 billion (2013). Year-to-year fluctuations are dramatic – up 5 percent one year then down 6.5 percent the next – but over the whole period funding is down 1 percent, or $66 million.

A decrease in spending over the last five years isn’t surprising. This follows the trend in overall federal spending. After the economic collapse of 2008-09, Congress instituted austere budget restrictions designed to reel in deficits. Fortunately, the drop in water conservation spending is less severe than the corresponding drop in overall spending. According to data from the Office of Management and Budget, non-defense discretionary spending, the broad budget category to which water conservation belongs, has gone down 5 percent over the same time period (2010-2014). That water conservation spending hasn’t suffered as much indicates that these programs have been a relative priority for lawmakers determined to cut spending.

Figure 2. Total water conservation spending at seven federal agencies from fiscal year 2010 (FY10) to fiscal year 2014 (FY14) in constant 2010 dollars.

A one percent drop in water conservation spending may not sound that bad but the picture gets bleaker after adjusting for inflation. In constant 2010 dollars, water conservation funding in 2014 is roughly $6.0 billion, down 9 percent from 2010. Again, this compares favorably to overall non-defense discretionary spending, which has declined 13 percent over the last five years after adjusting for inflation. Nevertheless, at a time of historic drought across the West, this means we have lost $625 million in purchasing power over five years for efforts to make the most out of every drop of water we have. That kind of decline could be sowing the seeds of trouble as climate change and population growth exacerbate current water supply problems.

There is reason to be hopeful about the future. Several years of slow but steady economic recovery are finally easing some of the fiscal constraints of the Great Recession; for example, water conservation spending was up 5 percent in 2014 over the previous year. And after seemingly endless omnibus spending bills, continuing resolutions and other budgetary standoffs that culminated in a shutdown of the federal government, Congress was able to complete a budget and appropriations process for fiscal year 2014. However, this year’s election is complicating the chances for a repeat for fiscal year 2015.

 

[1] In this context, water conservation refers to federal programs that have improvement of freshwater aquatic habitat, including aquatic species restoration, as a primary goal, or the ability to increase flows or wetland acres. There are other important federal actions that influence water conservation, such as research or data collection, but the “Sportsmen’s Water Budget” focuses on programs that have the ability to directly and immediately enhance freshwater resources.

[2] For example, while 60 percent of water conservation programs had their budgets cut by an average of $43 million from 2010-2014, one program – the Conservation Stewardship Program at NRCS – had its budget increase $689 million over the same period, masking significant decreases in CWSRF and EPA’s geographic programs like Great Lakes Restoration.

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posted in: General

August 5, 2014

How and why TruckVault Cares

Every once in a (long) while I have a pretty good idea. Because they are so infrequent, when I do have one, I act on it. That’s how “TruckVault Cares … for conservation, canines & kids … presented by PawPrint Genetics” started.

I wondered how I could use my bully pulpit as creator/host of America’s most-watched bird hunting TV show to help groups that deserve more exposure, members, support and funds.

Courtesy of TruckVault Cares

I’ve watched the TRCP from its infancy, gotten to know Jim Range and Rollie Sparrow a bit, and shared the TRCP vision from the get-go. I’m glad this year the TRCP is one of the beneficiary groups. But it’s up to you, dear reader, to make this pay off for your favorite group.

It’s fun, not to mention a good excuse to share your beliefs with others who also will support the TRCP and spend someone else’s money in support of your favorite group. Here’s how it works:

Groups receive on-air marketing exposure on Wingshooting USA TV plus online and social media marketing, print advertising in each others’ publications, and cross-promotion with partner groups. Each group will receive a share of the funding pool I provide based on total votes tallied.

Along with the TRCP, the campaign spotlight will be shared by USA Shooting, the training and sanctioning organization for U.S. Olympic and Paralympic shooting sports; Quail and Upland Wildlife Foundation, which provides funding and manpower for on-the-ground projects; Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, which funds processing and facilitates hunter donations of meat to needy families; German Shorthair Club of America’s dog rescue, an effort to find new homes for lost and abandoned hunting dogs; and the National Police Dog Foundation, which buys, trains and cares for active and retired law enforcement canines.

Anyone can vote daily at the TruckVault website and the TruckVault Facebook page. Voters are eligible for prizes throughout the campaign, which ends Dec. 31, 2014, when a $5,000 prize package is awarded at random to one voter.

And please, if you are buying any new gear or services, consider supporting the sponsors who support “TruckVault Cares”: TruckVault, Happy Jack dog care products, Filson apparel, Fiocchi ammunition, Pursuit Channel, Scott Linden’s Signature Series of dog gear, SportDOG and O.F. Mossberg & Sons.

(Scott Linden is executive producer and host of Wingshooting USA, airing on eight TV networks and the official TV series of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.)

 

 

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posted in: General

July 27, 2014

Firefighting and sportsmen: Why we support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act – and why you should, too

There is nothing like summer in Montana for a young man with a truck and a fly rod.  Incredible fishing in any number of rivers, streams and lakes starts in the early spring and continues through the fall, especially if you’re willing to hike, wade and paddle your way into waters where the trout haven’t seen the same $1.99 foam hoppers swing by every day since June.

Norman Maclean could write a book about Montana summers today and not stray too far from the original text of A River Runs Through It. One can imagine, however, the shocked look on his face upon awakening to a Missoula valley drowned by smoke each July and August, so much so that the sun rises bright orange over Hellgate Canyon each morning. Homes burn, habitat is destroyed, and the constant thud of helicopters ferrying water to the blazes can be heard everywhere.

Image courtesy of NASA.

Catastrophic wildfires are threatening communities across the West. Now, however, Congress has the opportunity to do something about it.

Ordinary wildfires are constant in Western summers. We devour the morel mushrooms that spring up in burned areas each spring; we praise the brave men and women who dedicate their summers to cutting breaks, clearing brush and jumping out of rickety airplanes; and we bear the routine evacuations and air quality concerns without too much complaint. They are a part of life; indeed, Smokey Bear is as much of a cultural icon for us as Rosie the Riveter. Let us not forget that this is a vital ecological process. We know that fires are integral to healthy forest ecosystems. Typical wildfires eliminate weaker trees and saplings from the understory, push back the underbrush and clear the way for new plant life to emerge. This process is necessary – not only to the health of the forest but also to the game populations we prize, like mule deer, elk and ruffed grouse.

Catastrophic wildfires, which consume hundreds of thousands of acres and ravage communities, are an entirely different animal. These fires are a distinctly unnatural process resulting from climate change, insects and poor forestry management. Sen. John McCain referenced their origins recently while testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, labeling them “manmade disasters” and calling for immediate reforms to the Forest Service’s suppression and prevention strategies.

One hundred and thirty-one other members of Congress also have expressed support for commonsense reforms like the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (S. 1875 and H.R. 3992) because they realize the severe ramifications of doing nothing. Indeed, the cost of wildfires today would be considerably lower if the Forest Service was able to effectively engage in its congressionally mandated activities. Legislation like the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would put an end   to the practice of borrowing funds from vital programs integral to land management and fire prevention across the United States to pay for fire suppression costs.

Conservation is about doing what you can, when you can. Otherwise, the land suffers, and we who hunt and fish suffer with it. We have a responsibility to support efforts to advance sound, results-oriented conservation measures, and we cannot continue to allow the individuals we elect to play games with the lands we know and love. Check and see if your senator or representative supports a change for wildfire funding. If they don’t, make sure they know you do.

Urge Congress to take action on wildfire funding today.

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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