Tough wildfire season predicted as federal budget cuts put strain on resources
BOISE, Idaho — After another dry winter across much of the West, fire officials are poised for a tough wildfire season that will be even more challenging because federal budget cuts mean fewer firefighters on the ground, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said on Monday.
Jewell, who is just five weeks into her new job, said automatic budget cuts mandated by Congress will force fire managers to make choices as they prioritize resources.
They also will have fewer resources to use on strategies designed to reduce fire potential, such as prescribed burns and reseeding.
“We will fight the fires and we will do them safely,” Jewell said. “But the resources will go to suppression, which is not ideal. What you're not doing is putting the resources in place to thoughtfully manage the landscape for the future.”
Jewell spent the past two days touring the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, the government's national wildfire nerve center. She was joined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who said the U.S. Forest Service alone will hire 500 fewer firefighters and deploy 50 fewer engines this season.
“We are going to be faced with a difficult fire season,” Vilsack said. “The bottom line is we're going to do everything we can to be prepared. But folks need to understand ... our resources are limited and our budgets are obviously constrained. We will do the best job we possibly can with the resources we have.”
Congress cut the current budgets for the Forest Service and Agriculture Department 5 percent under the mandated spending reductions, then added a 2.5 percent cut for fiscal 2013.
Other federal agencies that battle blazes anticipate hiring fewer people to fight fires, including the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Forest Service, however, will be adding some muscle to its ability to fight blazes from the air. The agency announced earlier this month it has contracted to use seven air tankers that fly faster and drop bigger amounts of fire retardant this summer.
Even before Monday's visit, fire experts were predicting a grim scenario of this summer's fire season. A dry winter and early warming has created conditions for a fire season that could begin earlier than usual and burn as much as last year, where states like New Mexico and Oregon posted records for burned acreage.
Crews already have fought blazes in California and Colorado. Barring any dramatic weather changes, the fire season is projected to start a month earlier than usual for Oregon, southern Washington, central Idaho and Montana.
Conditions are also ripe for above-normal fire potential in Arizona and New Mexico, but forecasters say late-season rains could tone down the Southwest fire season at least until late summer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Gunfire kills 3 at party in vacant house in Omaha
- Wind knocks out power in Los Angeles
- New York father kils 3 generations of family, himself
- Marines killed in helicopter training exercise in Southern California
- Police search finds no bombs on planes at Atlanta airport
- Sea otter conceived in wild born in California research center
- Marine Corps’ general outlines priorities, vision
- High-value detainees allowed family calls
- Snowstorm crawls up coast, hitting New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, parts of Pennsylvania
- Boy, 13, arrested in fatal stabbing at David Wark Griffith Middle School in East Los Angeles
- Iowa event jump-starts primary campaigns