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Congress, we need your help to continue celebrating the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s 50th birthday.
The nation’s leading hunting and fishing conservation organizations are calling on you to fully fund the LWCF, a critical tool for conserving valuable fish and wildlife habitat and improving public access for hunting and fishing.
Please see our request in a report released last week, during the LWCF’s 50th anniversary. “The Land and Water Conservation Fund and America’s sportsmen and women: A 50-year legacy of increased access and improved habitat” features a series of state-based case studies that profile places and people across that country that have benefited as a result of LWCF funding.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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. 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.
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.
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.
 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.
 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.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More