by Pam Zubeck
Sen. Mark Udall wants more money to fight fires and mitigate afterward. The Democrat from Colorado has teamed up with Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, to introduce an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriation for Disaster Assistance that would add $653 million to the agency's budget.
Given the continuing drought, fires in the west, including Colorado, are only going to get worse as time goes by.
Udall already paired with Colorado's other Democratic senator, Michael Bennet, in October to push for a study of the Waldo Canyon and High Park fires in Colorado last summer. Both claimed hundreds of homes. We reported on that letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary, which is dated three days after we raised questions to both senators about whether they would seek some kind of investigation, here.
Now, Udall is seeking additional funding to be used for pre-positioning ground crews, hot shots, and air support in places where wildfire risk is high, Udall and Tester say in a press release, which also states:
The funds also would be available for the acquisition of additional large air tankers and the removal of hazardous fuels in the wildland-urban interface, the fire-prone areas between cities and the backcountry.
The United States faced the third worst wildfire season in the nation's history, with more than 9.2 million acres burned, including record-setting blazes in Colorado and other parts of the West. The federal government, however, will enter the 2013 fire season with only eight large air tankers compared to 44 in 2000.
The federal fire-management budget also has failed to keep pace with the cost of actually fighting wildfires, forcing the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies to dip into accounts set aside for other purposes, such as watershed restoration and rangeland management.
Udall and Tester's proposed amendment to the Supplemental Appropriation for Disaster Assistance restores $653 million to the Forest Service's Wildland Fire Management Account, which funds wildland fire preparedness, suppression, hazardous fuels reduction, fire research and development, and state fire assistance. The amendment would increase the budget request for the Wildland Fire Management fund to the projected median cost of the fire season, $1.584 billion.
Read the entire press release here.