Federal Budget Cuts Weaken Wildfire Preparedness
Federal officials are preparing for what is expected to be a challenging fire season this year, specifically in the west. The forecast comes amid diminished federal firefighting dollars as a result of sequestration.
Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the number of fires that have already burned across the U.S. this year are down from last year by about 5,000. But Vilsack warns not to be lulled into a false sense of security. He says droughts continue to plague much of the country and federal budgets are strained.
“Nevertheless we’re going to work hard to make sure the job gets done, protecting people and property in that order and making sure our firefighters are safe," Vilsack says.
He says as a result of federal sequestration the U.S Forest Service will be short 500 firefighters and 50 engines. Funding for thinning and clearing hazardous fuels surrounding communities will also be slashed.
In Utah constant wildfires have become a threat to the regions watersheds. But Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says watershed restoration efforts will be scaled back.
“One of the consequences of taking resources and focusing them on suppression is you can’t do as much of that advanced work as you would like or the post-fire remediation that you would like to maintain the integrity of those ecosystems and watersheds," Jewell says.
Officials say the most significant fire potential is in southwestern Montana moving westward through Idaho to the Pacific coast. They say fires will be somewhat less significant in areas like Utah and Nevada but still a concern.