In America's National Forests, Stimulus Funds are Saving More than JobsThursday, February 26, 2009
Just last week, President Barack Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus package that he and Congressional supporters say will stimulate the economy and create millions of jobs for American workers. Now that the bill is signed, many Americans are looking to identify ways that stimulus spending will benefit their families and communities.
prevention, an issue that’s importance is
underscored by the devastating wildfires that
have raged throughout the
Our nation’s wildfire problems have worsened significantly over the past two decades. Since the 1990s, the average acreage burned annually by wildland fires has increased by roughly 70 percent. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), wildfires destroyed over 5.2 million acres of forest in the latter half of 2008, causing an estimated $2 billion in damage. During the same year, wildfires killed 16 people and leveled over a thousand structures.
“Due in large part to the accumulation of underbrush fuel in our nation’s forests, we have seen an increase in catastrophic wildfires,” said Ron Thatcher, NFFE Forest Service Council President. “When we are denied the manpower and resources necessary to carry out our mission, American lives and communities are put at increased risk. Let me tell you, it feels good to finally be heading in the right direction on this.”
As a percentage of the agency budget, Forest Service fire management activities have risen from 13 percent in 1991, to a projected 48 percent for 2009. Suppression costs exceeded $1 billion in six of the last nine years and are trending steeply upward. This leaves progressively less funding to perform other vital land management activities, including fuel reduction projects. The numbers document a diversion of effort, unintentional but real, toward fire suppression in lieu of fire prevention – an approach that is both dangerous and inefficient.
“Katrina taught us it is far more effective to prepare for inevitable events – for example with sturdy dikes and healthy wetlands – than it is deal with emergencies after inadequate protective measures have failed,” said Thatcher. “With wildfires too, it is more effective to spend money on the front end to reduce their frequency and intensity, than it is to spend money on the back end trying to contain them after they are out of control. This is exactly the kind of work the stimulus funding will support.”
While it remains to be seen if the stimulus bill will mark the beginning of an economic turnaround, there is little doubt that in funding wildfire management it is tackling a pressing national need. Strong bipartisan agreement on the need to reduce forest fuel loads in the battle against wildfires already exists. The stimulus bill provides much-needed resources for this essential work.
getting lost in the public discussion about the
stimulus are the benefits of intelligent
investments, like addressing the underbrush
removal backlog in our nation’s forests,”
stated Thatcher, noting that it will take years
of sustained effort to repair decades of
misguided management and neglect. “This
serves a vital national interest and at the
same time, creates jobs. Some
might try to call addressing national
priorities like cleaning up our forests big
government, but I’d call it smart
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