NFFE National President Dougan Letter to Congressional Appropriators Requesting Emergency Funding
The Honorable Hal Rogers The Honorable Barbara Mikulski
Committee on Appropriations Committee on Appropriations
H-307, The Capitol Room S 128, The Capitol
Washington, DC 20515 Washington, DC 20510
August 22, 2013
Dear Chairman Rogers and Chairwoman Mikulski:
On behalf of the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) and the 110,000 federal employees we represent throughout the United States and abroad, including the majority of our nation’s federal wildland firefighters, we ask that you provide federal firefighting agencies with the resources they need to safely accomplish their mission.
Last week Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell announced in a letter to Regional Foresters that the agency’s fire suppression budget had been exhausted. He added that funds would need to be drawn from other vital agency programs – including those that help prevent wildfires – to make up the difference. This is the sixth time this extremely disruptive transfer of funds – which shuts down programs in mid-stream – has happened since 2002. In addition to detrimentally affecting work to prevent catastrophic wildfire, this chronic problem has devastating effects on recreation, restoration, range, and other important programs.
At a time when fires are growing larger and more intense, we cannot afford to shortchange fire suppression and prevention. Last year marked the third-worst fire season in 50 years, burning up 9.3 million acres of forest and more than 4400 homes and structures. Over the last decade, fires have burned on average 60% more acreage than in the previous four decades. This year we have already seen devastating fires in Colorado, California, Oregon, Arizona, and now, Idaho. It has also tragically been the deadliest fire season in more than a decade.
This year, the sequester removed 500 firefighters and 50 engines from the ground, reducing firefighting agencies’ capacity to respond to wildfires when they occur. In addition, prevention programs that reduce the risk of devastating wildfires have been raided to maintain even this reduced level of suppression capability. Between 2001 and 2012, fire prevention as a portion of the fire budget dropped by nearly 20% percent – from 15.7% to 12.9%. This has devastated our nation’s preparedness and contributed to larger and more dangerous fires even as it leaves us less able to respond to catastrophic wildfires when they occur.
This is no way to run a business and it’s certainly no way to run a country. Firefighting agencies just announced we have reached a national preparedness level of 5, meaning the level of fire incidents “have the potential to exhaust all agency fire resources.” Congress needs to act immediately with a supplemental appropriation to ensure rural communities are protected without the gutting of other vital programs. Moreover, arbitrary funding cuts imposed by sequestration need to be restored or we will find ourselves in the same situation next year.
Thank you for considering our request.
William R. Dougan
CC: The Honorable Michael K. Simpson, Chairman, Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
The Honorable Jack Reed, Chairman, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies