You Can Support Wildfire Funding - Outdoor Industry Association
Policy

You Can Support Wildfire Funding

By Jessica Wahl May 24, 2015
At the 2015 Capitol Summit in Washington DC, one of the  requests OIA members made to members of Congress was to pass legislation to support agencies that work to prevent forest fires and to fight them when they happen. This overview, which OIA members in attendance used to guide the conversation with their representatives, provides some context for the current state of wildfire mitigation in the U.S. and why OIA supports the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act.

The Funding Issue

Hotter, longer and more severe wildfires across the country are not only impacting recreation by closing trails and depleting watersheds, but the way the government budgets for wildfires is also having a negative impact on outdoor recreation. When land management agencies run out of fire suppression dollars, they have to take money from meager recreation and trail management budgets, making managing normal day-to-day operations for the agencies and their partners extremely challenging and, at times, impossible. In order to resolve these conflicts, extreme wildfires need to be treated as natural disasters and managed as such through a federal disaster account.

When land management agencies run out of fire suppression dollars, they have to take money from meager recreation and trail management budgets, making managing normal day-to-day operations for the agencies and their partners extremely challenging and, at times, impossible.

Legislation introduced by Representatives Simpson and Schrader and Senators Wyden and Crapo fixes this problem. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA) does two things: 1) continues to make sure firefighters have the resources they need; and 2) ensures Forest Service and Department of Interior projects, such as trail maintenance, stream restoration and hazardous fuels treatments, do not lose their funding in years when firefighting budgets are exceeded due to extreme fire seasons (which has occurred eight times since 2000).

Notes:

  • Cosponsor the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R. 167, S. 235)
  • 2013 was the seventh time in the past 12 years that the Forest Service has had to divert hundreds of thousands of dollars that should have been used on trails, recreation infrastructure, and programming
  • More than 80% of all wildfire funding is spent protecting the wildland/urban interface where more than five million homes are now located, leaving recreation assets such as trails, campgrounds and waterfronts neglected or closed
  • Often visitors, including permitted outfitters, are not able to access recreation assets in a national forest for up to three years after a fire
  • Fire budgets need to be established in separate disaster relief accounts and not taken out of the land management agencies’ already tight budgets
  • The Forest Service and DOI are the only agencies required to fund natural disaster response through their own discretionary budgets
  • The bill is supported by a broad coalition of businesses, tribes, recreationists, sportsmen, firefighters, loggers, counties, ranchers and conservationists

The Access Issue

Outdoor recreation, education and outfitting providers are focused on offering immersive experiences that provide individuals, children and their families with the opportunity to experience public lands in a sustainable and exciting way. Current processes for administering special recreation permits are not sufficiently flexible to accommodate evolving uses of public lands and waters by a wide range of user groups, even though the federal agencies’ mission is to get more people outside to enjoy our public lands.

Current processes for administering special recreation permits are not sufficiently flexible to accommodate evolving uses of public lands and waters by a wide range of user groups, even though the federal agencies’ mission is to get more people outside to enjoy our public lands.

Notes:

  • The agencies need to improve sustainable access to public lands and waters
  • The inability of current management strategies to adapt to changing markets and demands restricts opportunities to enjoy public lands, undermining local economies
  • Streamlining processes and adopting known best practices will help us reach our shared goal of providing more Americans with meaningful outdoor experiences, as well as creating jobs in gateway communities