APPLETON (AP) – President Barack Obama has proposed using disaster funds to help fight wildfires to avoid draining forestry budgets, a move that could help boost Wisconsin’s timber industry.
More than half of the federal forestry budget is devoted to fighting wildfires, up from 20 percent decades ago, Gannett Wisconsin Media reported Wednesday.
Forestry officials have said the diversion of money to firefighting is one cause of a shortfall in timber harvesting in northern Wisconsin’s Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Only about half of the allotted timber in the forest has been cut over the past decade.
The plan in Obama’s proposed 2015 budget “doesn’t increase overall discretionary spending, but it would allow the Department of Agriculture to tap the already designated disaster funds,” said Brian Deese, deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. “This is to avoid the situation when we have a bad fire year and Interior and Agriculture have to take money … and shift it to suppression.”
Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin said Tuesday that the plan would help Wisconsin’s timber industry.
“In December, I urged President Obama to include in his budget a new plan to solve the chronic problem of taking funding intended for forest management and fire prevention activities and instead using it for wildfire suppression,” Baldwin wrote in an email. “In Wisconsin and across the country, this leaves the U.S. Forest Service without resources to complete its critical missions related to timber contract management, forest health and forest fire prevention.”
The plan is likely to encounter opposition from Republicans, including Rep. Paul Ryan, of Janesville.
Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, said one problem with the plan is that it doesn’t include more money to fight wildfires. Obama has proposed spending $6.2 billion over the next five years to fight wildfires.
“Preventing and fighting wildfires are national priorities, and the president should budget accordingly,” Ryan said in an email. “Yet the president is asking for $1.2 billion less than what he believes is necessary. Congress just agreed to caps on discretionary spending, which will reach over $1 trillion in the coming year. The fact that the President refused to use one-tenth of one percent of that money to fully fund wildfire prevention and suppression speaks to his real priorities.”