Friday, May 20, 2016

Report on U.S. Forest Service preparations for 2016 wildfire season and unfavorable wildfire trends

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell on May 17 met with Regional Foresters representing areas expected to be at greatest risk during the 2016 wildfire season to discuss their preparations to fight fires across the United States.

Last year, seven members of the Forest Service firefighting team were lost in the line of duty, and 4,500 homes were damaged or destroyed. The job of fighting wildfires has become increasingly difficult due to the effects of climate change, chronic droughts, and a constrained budget environment in Washington.

At least 58 million acres of National Forest System lands are in or near the Wildland Urban Interface and work now can reduce risk to life, homes, businesses and infrastructure. On the call, Chief Tidwell will underscore the Forest Service’s commitment to ensuring the protection of firefighters’ lives.

Climate change has led to fire seasons that are, on average, 78 days longer than they were in 1970, and the average number of acres burned each year has doubled since 1980.

As a result, the Forest Service's firefighting budget is regularly exhausted before the end of the wildfire season, forcing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to abandon critical restoration and capital improvement projects in order to suppress extreme fires.

Over half of the Forest Service’s 2015 budget was used to fight wildfires, compared to just 16 percent in 1995.

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