The Obama administration is detailing the toll that the escalating cost of fighting forest fires has had on other projects as it pushes Congress to overhaul how it pays for the most severe fires.
In a new report issued Wednesday, the Agriculture Department said staffing for fighting fires has more than doubled since 1998. Meanwhile, the number of workers who manage National Forest System lands has dropped by about a third.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Congress needs to stop the budget cuts so the Forest Service can adequately fund both firefighting and conservation.
“Bottom line is that there's no question at the end of the day that we'll have to borrow money again this year as we've had to for six out of the last ten years in order to have adequate resources to fight the fires that we're currently fighting and to fight the fires we expect to fight in September, October and beyond,” Vilsack said.
Vilsack said they expect having to borrow up to $400 million this year to fill in the funding gap to fight the fires. That's on top of the $500 to $600 million the National Forest Service borrowed in the last couple of years.
Forest fires have ravaged wide swaths of the western United States this year. Congress turned down the president's request for $615 million in emergency funds to fight the fires before it broke for summer recess.
The costs of fighting fires in Washington state so far this year is estimated to top $171 million.
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