A picture of Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham
Michelle L.
Democrat NM 1

About Rep. Michelle
  • Forest Management and Wildfires

    by Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham

    Posted on 2015-12-09

    submit to reddit

    Read More about Forest Management and Wildfires

    LUJAN GRISHAM of New Mexico. Mr. Thompson, I appreciate this Special Order on wildfires and forest management, and I really appreciate your leadership on the House Agriculture Committee as chairman of our Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry.

    Most recently, the subcommittee held a hearing on the 2015 wildfire season and long-term fire trends, a much-needed hearing recognizing the concerns and urgent needs of many of our Members who watched their districts and States burn to unprecedented levels this year.

    What is abundantly clear from the testimony we heard, especially that of Forest Service Chief Tidwell, was how crippling the current wildfire budget system is to the agency and how, frankly, it prevents the Forest Service from carrying out its congressionally mandated mission.

    The current process for funding wildfire suppression is inefficient and wastes taxpayer dollars. Once the Forest Service exhausts their wildfire suppression budget, the agency is then forced to transfer funds from nonfire programs, which are often needed to prevent fires, in order to support the immediate, emergency needs of fire suppression.

    {time} 1845 In the last fiscal year, FY15, the Forest Service spent $700 million more than what Congress initially appropriated.

    Since 2004, the Forest Service has needed eight supplemental appropriations. This is now the norm, not the exception.

    This year's wildfire season devastated much of the Western United States. The Forest Service spent $1.7 billion fighting these fires. More than 9 million acres were burned, thousands of homes and other infrastructures were lost, and 13 firefighters lost their lives in the line of duty.

    While I am thankful New Mexico avoided any big fires this year, I know firsthand how devastating fires can be. For 3 years in a row, New Mexico endured the biggest fires the State has ever seen. The Whitewater-Baldy Complex, Las Conchas, and the Gila fires devastated our land, our resources and our communities.

    These fires are natural disasters that require emergency response and recovery and should, frankly, be funded the same way as hurricanes, floods and tornados. Now, it is clear to me that Congress needs to urgently fix this funding problem before more communities are destroyed and lives are lost.

    In addition to the ``fire borrowing'' issue, Congress also has to address the rising 10-year suppression cost average for wildfires. Rising wildfire costs means that less funding is going to nonfire Forest Service employees and programs each year. Because of this, the Forest Service now has fewer resources for recreation, research and development, and road maintenance.

    There are also fewer resources to carry out activities and projects that many say we need more of, such as NEPA analysis, timber contracts, timber salvage, controlled burns, and other Forest Service management activities.

    Lack of resources often means that these projects get delayed or canceled. And we aren't just talking about Forest Service projects; they are projects in each of our districts that are developed by our own constituents and partners within each of these communities.

    Now, I understand that the broken wildfire budget and rising costs are only part of the problem. Wildfires are burning bigger and more intense than ever before.

    Climate change is causing more drought, higher temperatures, bringing new diseases and pests to new areas, and changing the vegetation on the ground. Our forests are not the same forests that they were 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago.

    Climate change is undoubtedly changing our forest dynamics, and we must make our forests more resilient.

    Fixing the broken wildfire budgeting process is the most effective thing Congress can do to begin to address the devastating wildfires that are plaguing this country.

    I also agree that we need more management work done on the ground, so let's work together to ensure that the Forest Service has sufficient resources to do their work.

    I understand that there have been talks on both the House and Senate side about including a budget fix in the upcoming omnibus, but that a deal remains elusive because some parties are unwilling to address the budget caps in order for wildfires to get treated as exactly what they are, as natural disasters. This would treat wildfire natural disasters just like every other natural disaster in this country.

    We out west have helped fund hurricanes, tornados and flooding in the Midwest and in the eastern parts of the country. We should be doing the same for our natural disasters out west.

    I urge Speaker Ryan, and Chairman Price of the Budget Committee, to recognize this simple, yet important distinction.

    House leadership, Mr. Thompson, and others, I know, we can sit down and we can come to an agreement to fix the broken budget process and address some of the management needs. I stand ready at any moment to have these conversations and find a path forward.

    I thank the chairman very much.

  • submit to reddit
  • Register your constituent account to respond

    Constituent Register