The head of the U.S. Forest Service has ordered a spending freeze on restoration programs, employee travel, hiring, and overtime in order to cover $600 million in additional costs related to fighting wildfires. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell made the announcement in a memo in mid-August.
“It has been another long, tragic fire season and we have several more months of intense activity ahead of us,” Tidwell wrote to regional foresters and station and area directors. “As predicted this year’s fire season has led to costs that exceed appropriated fire suppression funds and once again we must now transfer funds from other accounts to make up the difference.”
The Forest Service has spent about a billion dollars this year on wildlife suppression, according to agency spokesman Mike Ferris. Although the number of fires and the areal coverage of the fires are less than the ten-year average, the season has been more costly because the fires have burned longer and many are located close to human settlements.
Tidwell acknowledged in the memo that borrowing funds within the agency to cover the costs of fire suppression “will have significant effects on the public whom we serve and on our many valuable partners, as well as agency operations, target accomplishments and performance.”
This is not the first time the U.S. Forest Service has had to reallocate funds to cover fire costs. The agency has borrowed $2.7 billion from itself over the past decade. Congress eventually restored about $2.3 billion of these funds.
“I regret that we have to take this action and fully understand that it only increases costs and reduces efficiency,” said Tidwell. “I remain committed to finding a solution that in the future will avoid this disruption to our public service and land stewardship responsibilities and impacts to local economies.”
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