Fire Spending Impacts Outdoor Recreation

Climbing Management Initiatives Delayed

US Forest Service (USFS) funding for many programs vital to Americans' enjoyment of our National Forests is about to disappear as the agency redirects money earmarked for those programs to fight fires. Climbing access is routinely affected across the West because the USFS is forced to divert dollars normally used for recreation management to address forest fire emergencies. In late August the Chief of the USFS Abigail Kimbell announced that the agency has depleted its $1.18 billion fire suppression budget for fiscal year 2008 and has initiated a recall of $400 million from agency programs throughout the nation. The result is that many projects benefiting outdoor recreationists will be put on hold until the end of the fiscal year (October) or until 2009.

Chief Kimbell stated, Firefighting activity and costs have risen steadily and drastically over the past several years due to the increased need and costs of protecting homes built near natural areas, drought, and climate change. The agency's fire fighting budget is based on a ten-year rolling average of past fire-fighting costs, which regularly fails to meet the demands of a rapidly changing environment. Read the message from the USFS Chief here: www.fs.fed.us/news/2008/releases/08/fire-impacts.pdf

This $400 million recall will be felt directly by the millions of people that treasure America's national forests as places to climb, hike, bike, paddle, ski, and snowshoe. Collaborative efforts to protect the environment and encourage public enjoyment will be hampered by agency staff's inability to travel to meetings. Recently a formal mediation process between the Allied Climbers of San Diego and the USFS regarding climbing closures to protect cliff-nesting raptors (or the lack thereof) has been stalled because the Cleveland National Forest needed to use its money and staff resources to fight fires. On USFS lands across the country, research efforts will be ceasedright in the middle of the prime data collection seasonwhich will likely delay many agency actions for one year. Grants and partnerships will be frozen and construction and watershed restoration projects will be put on hold.

Forward thinking Federal lawmakers responded to this recurring problem in March of this year by introducing the Federal Land Assistance, Management, and Enhancement Act, also known as the FLAME Act. The FLAME Act would create a supplemental funding source for catastrophic emergency wildland fire suppression activities on federal lands and would require agency leaders to develop a cohesive wildland fire management strategy. The FLAME Act, which has drawn wide support from the outdoor recreation community, passed in the House on July 9th and is now under consideration by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Learn more about the content and status of the FLAME Act by searching www.thomas.gov for H.R. 5541 or FLAME Act.