Wildfire

Firefighter stands in front of smoke

Nowadays it is always wildfire season somewhere in the United States. In 2016, more than 67,000 wildfires burned more than 5.5 million acres of land in the United States. 

State Foresters are responsible for wildfire protection on two thirds of America’s forested lands. State forestry agencies and their partners provide critical resources and experience to wildland fire management and suppression as part of the coordinated national wildfire response. State forestry agencies also support prevention and mitigation efforts to reduce the threat of wildland fire in the first place.

More people in fire-prone landscapes, high fuel loads, drought and unhealthy forest landscapes are among the factors that have led State Foresters to identify wildland fire as a significant priority issue in their Forest Action Plans.

Wildfire Funding

Today's fire seasons are on average 78 days longer than in the 1970s and are projected to grow hotter, more unpredictable, and more expensive. Over the last few decades, the portion of the USDA Forest Service’s budget dedicated to fire has grown from under 20 percent to more than 50 percent of the agency’s total budget. As wildfire eats up a significantly larger share of the agency’s budget, critical funding that supports federal, state and private forests is reduced.

Compounding the issue is a practice known as “fire borrowing”, which occurs when the agency runs out of appropriated funding in a given year. Fire borrowing robs money from non-wildfire programs to pay for the current year’s fire suppression needs.

In order to cover wildfire suppression costs in recent years, the USDA Forest Service has been forced to dismiss employees early, cancel contracts and halt plans to fill critical positions that conserve and protect our nation’s forests, both public and private. Examples of projects cancelled as a result of fire borrowing include forest thinning activities, firefighter training, purchases of firefighting equipment and recreation projects. Contact the NASF policy director to learn more.

Beyond Suppression

Wildland fire must be managed across landscapes that are often fragmented into many land ownerships and political jurisdictions. More than a wildfire management, fire operations, wildland urban interface problem—wildfire is a larger land management and societal issue.

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy ("Cohesive Strategy") is the roadmap for interagency wildland fire management across the country. The Cohesive Strategy allows stakeholders to work collaboratively across all landscapes, using best science, to make meaningful progress towards the three goals:

  • Resilient Landscapes
  • Fire Adapted Communities Safe 
  • Effective Wildfire Response

Other Federal Programs

The State Fire Assistance (SFA) and Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) programs provide crucial financial and technical assistance to states and local fire departments for wildland fire prevention, detection, and suppression. In addition to helping ensure that the nation’s first responders are prepared, the programs provide funding to complete hazardous fuels treatments designed to protect local communities from wildland fire and reduce the risk of future fires.

In 2016, SFA/VFA funding trained more than 48,000 firefighters and provided more than $14 million dollars in new or upgraded equipment. The programs engage more than 15,000 communities to develop and implement Community Wildfire Protection Plans.

Tag: