The Washington Post printed an article today about the new budget unveiled by the Office of Management and Budget (Many Proposed Cuts Have Met Limited Success in the Past). A detailed report of the impact on programs is due out later this week, but some analysis I did of the budget available online showed that rural firefighters are getting hit very hard. The Rural Fire Assistance Program is being docked $10 million and the Rural Firefighter and Emergency Grants Program is being virtually eliminated, with a $40 million reduction. These are programs that provide about the only source of funding to rural fire departments. While the text of the budget claims that rural departments can obtain funds from the Homeland Security budget, articles by firefighters reflect a considerable amount of skepticism about the effectiveness of this course of action.
Rural departments are not the only ones being affected. Over $650 million is being eliminated from the Forest Service Wildland Fire Management budget, mainly through elimination of any emergency funds which would kick into play if fire suppression costs exceeded the ten-year average, which is likely with the current weather conditions. This winter, wildfires have raged across the Midwest and western states, burning hundreds of thousands of acres. Arizona alone has 25 million dead Ponderosa pine trees, and the Gulf Coast has acres of timber blown down by the hurricanes last year, all of it just waiting for dry lightning or man to ignite it.
Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano has expressed concern over air-tanker availability this coming fire season (which, judging by the February Fire currently burning outside of Payson, has already started in Arizona). Senator John McCain is concerned enough about this that his staff met with air-tanker contractor Rick Hatton to get an update on how soon their massive DC-10 air-tanker could be ready to fight fires.
This promises to be a busy season. I just hope there is enough money to pay for all the fire suppression that will undoubtedly be needed. Send me an e-mail and tell me what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org.