Tue March 15, 2011

Agriculture Secretary Wants Congress to Keep Fire Funding for Western States

The House passed a measure on Tuesday blending $6 billion in budget cuts with enough money to keep the government running for an additional three weeks. But the cuts could have a negative impact on Colorado’s upcoming fire season.

The latest funding proposal drafted by the U.S. House appropriations committee would cut $2 million from the U.S. Forest Service budget and use it for deficit reduction. Instead, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wants some of it to be used for fire prevention efforts stemming from the bark beetle epidemic.

But he says Congress appears unwilling to do that.

“If we have a huge fire – it’s possible that either it could have been prevented or the damage can be minimized if we do a better job of protecting populated areas and critically important areas,” says Vilsack.

The latest estimates put the number of acres impacted by the beetle in Colorado and Southern Wyoming at 400,000. The Interior Department also stands to lose $6 million for wildland fire management. The proposed cuts are part of a short-term funding resolution aimed a preventing a government shutdown.