The U.S. Forest Service reportedly spent more than half of its annual budget on wildland firefighting at the expense of other programs to prevent major wildfires, according to a new report.
That’s a first in the 110-year history of the agency, USA Today reports. By comparison, two decades ago, firefighting made up 16 percent of the annual budget for the Forest Service. Firefighting costs have forced the Forest Service to tap other funds, such as forest-thinning projects.
A release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, of which the Forest Service is a part, says that within a decade, the agency will spend more than two-thirds of its budget to battle ever-increasing fires, while mission-critical programs that can help prevent fires in the first place such as forest restoration and watershed and landscape management will continue to suffer.
Meanwhile, catastrophic fires are projected to burn twice as many acres by 2050.
“You’re no longer the forest service, you’re a fire department,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Today, fire seasons are 78 days longer than in the 1970s. Since 2000, at least 10 states have had their largest fires on record. Increasing development near forest boundaries also drives up costs, as more than 46 million homes and more than 70,000 communities are at risk from wildfire in the United States.
Numerous fires continue to burn in the drought-stricken Western states in one of the worst wildfire seasons in history.
The full report is at http://www.fs.fed.us/about-agency/budget-performance/cost-fire-operations.