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Rampant wildfires squeeze Forest Service budget

Aug. 22, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
US-DISASTER-FIRE-WILDFIRE
Pine trees ignite as a flare up breaks a containment line June 3 at the Powerhouse Fire, near Lake Hughes, Calif., approximately 66 miles north of Los Angeles. With funds depleted, the head of the union representing many federal wildfire fighters is seeking emergency funding to replenish the U.S. Forest Service's fire suppression budget. (AFP / Getty Images)

The head of the union representing many federal wildfire fighters is seeking emergency funding to replenish the U.S. Forest Service’s fire suppression budget.

“Congress needs to act immediately with a supplemental appropriation to ensure rural communities are protected without the gutting of other vital programs,” William Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said in a Thursday letter to leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees.

In a memo last week, Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell said the agency exhausted this year’s firefighting budget and would have to tap other accounts to make up the difference. Tidwell also told regional foresters and other subordinates to defer most contract and grant awards; continue to limit conference and travel spending; and “prudently” manage hiring and overtime expenses.

“I regret that we have to take this action and fully understand that it only increases costs and reduces efficiency,” Tidwell said in the memo, which was released by NFFE.

In his letter, Dougan wrote that “this is the sixth time this extremely disruptive transfer of funds — which shuts down programs in midstream — has happened since 2002.” Besides taking money from fire prevention, he said, “this chronic problem has devastating effects on recreation, restoration, range, and other important programs.”

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