Rising Firefighting Costs Affecting Budget - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Rising Firefighting Costs Affecting Budget

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A new report shows that the cost of fighting wildfires has risen dramatically, over the past two decades. That is having an impact on fire prevention efforts. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service used 16% of its budget to fight fires. Today, that percentage has grown to 42%.

"The last 20 years have seen a lot of drought in the west," says Rudy Evenson, Deputy Director of Communications for the Nevada BLM. "We're in a drought right now. Drought makes fires harder to fight, makes them burn longer."

The dry weather also leaves forests more susceptible to disease and insects. While fire activity has been relatively low in Nevada, this year, the national trend has fires starting big, and getting bigger.

"In Washington and Oregon, this year alone, they're at 1 million acres and they're probably on track to beat their 2012 record of 1.2 million acres," Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said.

Hernandez says it costs $15,000 every time a large air tanker makes a drop because of fuel, retardant, and pilot costs. Wildfire staffing has more than doubled since 1998, but staff for managing National Forest Service lands have decreased by 35%.

"Ironically, (it) takes it away from wildfire fuels management programs, which are aimed at addressing the problem of reducing the large scale fires," Ed Smith, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Natural Resource Specialist said.

That means many areas are going without fuels management. With less federal money there, the burden falls on local fire departments.

"It trickles down to the local first responders because we're the ones that go out and make that initial attack, trying to suppress that wildfire," Hernandez said.

The Bureau of Land Management is still within their fire suppression budget, this year. But the U.S. Forest Service has exceeded its allocated amount in 10 of the last 14 years. The amount of wildfires on federal lands has more than doubled since 1980, and the fire season is getting longer.

"Traditionally, it's May to October," Hernandez said. "Now, they're adding 90 days on each end. It's not getting any better."

There are some bipartisan proposals, in Congress, that would fund catastrophic fires like any other natural disasters. That would open up more revenue and allocate more of the budget to other forestry programs.
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