U.S. needs to keep fire tanker funding
Oakland Tribune, Nov 27, 2005
WHILE trying to slash billions of dollars from the federal budget to help cover the costs of the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration wants to cut funding, a move that would ground much of the federal fire-fighting tanker fleet.
This would be a bad idea.
While western states have managed to get through the last two years without a major flare-up of wildfires, wet winters and long, hot summers mean that the inevitable has only been delayed.
If major fires break out next year, we could find ourselves with a 50 to 75 percent reduction in our aerial fire fighting capability.
The administration wants to cut a $500 million reserve fund that's tapped to battle blazes across California and the West during heavy fire years. The $700 million annual fire-fighting budget is often exceeded, with costs rising to more than $1 billion.
"This fund -- developed on a bipartisan basis -- ensured that fire-fighting costs could be met," said California's Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. And environmentalists also have joined to oppose the proposal, which requires congressional approval.
Any year when the fire season worsens, the U.S. Forest Service would have to cancel other efforts, such as removing dead and dying trees, that are needed for fire control.
Coupled with a proposed spending limit of $100 million next year on federal aerial fire fighting, it would severely cripple the tanker fleet.