Secretary Jewell Tours Fire Damaged Areas in Southern California, Discusses Urgent Need to Fix Federal Fire Funding

Last edited 09/29/2021

Date: October 14, 2015
Contact: Jessica Kershaw,

SAN DIEGO – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Congressman Scott Peters today toured fire damaged areas in San Diego, received a briefing on current fire conditions and continued their calls to reform the way the federal government funds wildfire suppression efforts. The two also highlighted the growing threat of catastrophic wildfires in drought-stricken areas of the West. 

The visit comes on the heels of a letter sent to Congress by Jewell, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan urging they act to change the funding system so federal agencies can continue to fight fires while adequately investing in forest and rangeland restoration, making lands more resilient and less vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire.

“The rising costs of fighting wildfires in San Diego come at the expense of other programs that reduce the risk of catastrophic fires, increase the ability of our lands to recover from fire, and help protect communities and infrastructure,” said Jewell. “The President's budget and a bipartisan group in Congress – like Congressman Peters – recognize this and have a commonsense solution by which we would treat catastrophic wildfires like the natural disasters they are. Congress can stop this perpetual downward spiral that each year increases fire risk and jeopardizes critical resources that support prevention and recovery efforts in California and across the country.”
In Southern California, more than 3,600 fires have burned 282,000 acres as of Oct. 1, 2015. Last year, at least 3,200 wildfires in the area burned approximately 50,000 acres during the same period. 

Nationally, an estimated 59,000 wildfires scorched more than nine million acres this year, continuing a trend of severe fire seasons that took the lives of wildland firefighters and destroyed homes, structures and natural resources. That's above the national, 10-year average of 6.2 million acres burned from roughly 59,500 fires. Since 2000, fire seasons have grown longer, and the frequency, size and severity of wildland fires has increased. 

Climate change has led to fire seasons that are now on average 78 days longer than in 1970. Twice as many acres are burned in the U.S. compared to three decades ago, and Forest Service scientists believe the acreage burned may double again by mid-century.
While the Interior Department and the Forest Service are able to suppress or manage 98 percent of wildfires with allocated funds, catastrophic fires – which make up one to two percent of wildland fires – consume 30 percent or more of annual fire suppression dollars. 

President Obama has proposed changing how the nation pays for wildfire costs so federal agencies can balance wildfire suppression with a proactive fuels management and restoration program that makes lands more resilient and less vulnerable to catastrophic fires. This solution is similar to the bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R. 167 introduced by Congressmen Mike Simpson and Kurt Schrader and S. 235 introduced by Senators Ron Wyden and Mike Crapo), which is budget-neutral and has broad and diverse stakeholder support.
Interior and Forest Service set their firefighting budget based on their average costs of fighting fires over the last 10 years. Due to longer fire seasons, increased fuel loads in public forests and rangelands, and the expense associated with protecting lives and homes along an expanding wildland-urban interface, the 10-year average continues to rise.

The costs of wildfire preparedness and suppression now account for 76 percent of the DOI wildfire management program budget and, as in the case of the Forest Service, reduce the amounts of funds available for fuels management and restoration efforts. These activities are essential for reducing risks of catastrophic fires, increasing the resiliency of lands to recover from fire, and to protect communities and infrastructure.
In recent years, Interior and the Forest Service have relied on funding transfers from non-suppression programs to fund extraordinary fire costs that exceed budgeted amounts. The Forest Service transferred funds in seven of the last 14 years, while in six of the last 14 years, Interior had to transfer funds.

Was this page helpful?

Please provide a comment