Order Code RS21544
Updated April 3, 2006
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Wildfire Protection Funding
Ross W. Gorte
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Recent severe fire seasons have prompted a significant rise in funding for wildfire
protection; wildfire appropriations in FY2006 were more than $2.5 billion. Most of the
funds ($2.4 billion in FY2006) are to protect federal lands, with funds for reducing fuel
loads, for equipment and training, for fighting fires, and for restoring burned sites.
Federal funding ($102 million in FY2006) also supports state efforts to protect
nonfederal lands. Some wildfire funding ($69 million in FY2006) is used for fire
research, fire facilities, and programs to improve forest health. Congress continues to
debate wildfire funding levels, with a growing focus on the cost of wildfire suppression.
This report will be updated annually to reflect changes in wildfire funding.
Recent severe fire seasons have prompted substantial debate and proposals related
to fire protection programs and funding. The severe 2000 fires led President Clinton to
propose a new National Fire Plan, to increase funding to protect federal, state, and private
lands. Congress largely enacted this request, and has maintained higher wildfire funding.
(See Table 1.)
The severe 2002 fire season led the Bush Administration to propose a Healthy
Forests Initiative to expedite procedures for reducing the fuel levels on federal lands.
Following extensive congressional discussions, Congress enacted the Healthy Forests
Restoration Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-148) to expedite fuel reduction on federal lands and
to authorize other forest protection programs. (For more on wildfire legislation, see CRS
Report RS22024, Wildfire Protection in the 108th Congress, by Ross W. Gorte.)
This report briefly describes the three categories of federal programs for wildfire
protection. One is to protect the federal lands managed by the USDA Forest Service (FS)
and the U.S. Department of the Interior (with wildfire programs coordinated by the
Bureau of Land Management [BLM]). A second category assists state and local
governments and communities in protecting nonfederal lands; these programs are used
to reduce wildland fuels, to otherwise prepare for fire control, to contain and control
wildfires, and to respond after severe wildfires have burned. A third category of federal
programs supports fire research, fire facilities, and improvements in forest health.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Table 1. Total Appropriations to Wildfire Accounts, FY1999-FY2007
(in millions of dollars)
1,059.3 1,598.9 2,859.9 2,238.8 3,165.1 3,230.6 2,929.8 2,501.4 2,537.8
Note: The totals in this table are the sum of totals in the other tables, excluding the wildfire assistance
programs funded through FS State & Private Forestry.
The tables in this report present data on funding for the three categories of federal
fire programs. The FS and BLM use three fire appropriation accounts — preparedness,
suppression operations, and other operations — to fund most federal fire programs.
However, the agencies include different activities in the accounts (e.g., the BLM includes
fire research and fire facility funding in the preparedness account, while the FS includes
these in other operations) and the accounts change over time (e.g., the agencies split
operations funding into suppression and other operations in 2001). Thus, the data, taken
from the agency budget justifications for the National Fire Plan, have been rearranged for
the tables in this report to present consistent data and trends on the three categories of
federal wildfire programs over a nine-year period.
One category of wildfire management funding is for protecting federal lands. Table
2 shows wildfire management appropriations for FY1999 — FY2006 and the FY2007
budget request for protecting federal lands from wildfires. (Current information on fire
management appropriations is contained in CRS Report RL32893, Interior, Environment,
and Related Agencies: FY2006 Appropriations, coordinated by Carol Hardy Vincent and
Susan Boren.) The data in this table exclude funding for the other two categories of
federal wildfire funding — for assistance to state and local governments, communities,
and private landowners and for research, fire facility maintenance, and forest health
improvement. The BLM included funds for fire research and fire facilities under its
Preparedness budget line item through FY2004; these funds have been excluded from the
table. Table 2 shows appropriations by fiscal year, with emergency funding identified for
the year in which it was provided, rather than in the year it was spent. The agencies are
authorized to borrow from other accounts for fire suppression, and emergency funds
generally repay these borrowings.
Table 2 shows that federal land fire management appropriations rose substantially
in FY2001 and have remained high, with fluctuations generally depending on the severity
of the preceding fire season. Total fuel reduction funding — to reduce the fuel loads on
federal lands — more than tripled in FY2001, and has since risen further for the FS while
remaining relatively stable for the BLM. Total funding for preparedness — equipment,
training, baseline personnel, prevention, detection, etc. — also rose in FY2001, then was
stable for the FS before rising again in FY2004, while stabilizing for the BLM. Total site
rehabilitation funds under fire management peaked in FY2001 to restore lands burned
during the severe 2000 fire season. However, funds in other budget line items, such as
watershed improvement, are also used to restore burned areas.
Table 2. Wildfire Funding to Protect Federal Lands, FY1999-FY2007
($ in millions)
1,702.4 1,415.6 2,162.7
2,631.5 2,056.3 3,007.6
Note: This table differs from the similar table in CRS Report RL32893, Interior, Environment, and Related
Agencies: FY2006 Appropriations, because of adjustments for the two non-federal land categories of
federal wildfire funding.
a. Includes emergency appropriations — $10.0 million in FY2003, $24.9 million in FY2004, and $30.0
million in FY2005.
b. Excludes emergency funds for fuel reduction and state assistance — $30.0 million in FY2003, $49.7
million in FY2004, and $30.0 million in FY2005.
c. Unidentifiable amount funded from other budget line items, such as watershed improvement.
d. Calculated at 26% of wildfire operations (see page IV-36 of the FY2001 BLM budget justification).
e. Excludes joint fire science research and facilities funding enacted within the BLM preparedness account
f. Unidentified amount included in suppression funding.
Total funding for fire suppression — fighting fires — rose substantially for the BLM
in FY2000 and for the FS in FY2001, dropped for both agencies in FY2002, and has risen
substantially since. Emergency fire funding, as contingency appropriations or emergency
supplemental appropriations, has fluctuated widely for both agencies since FY1999, but
with an overall increase. For FY2006, the Bush Administration proposed no contingency
funding, and requested more suppression funding in a successful attempt to make
emergency funding unnecessary. Whether this approach will be successful again for
FY2007 depends on the severity of the 2006 and 2007 fire seasons.
Some Members of Congress and interest groups have expressed concern about the
adequacy of firefighting appropriations and the effects of borrowing from other accounts
to pay for firefighting. Proponents of the various FS and BLM programs are concerned
that the borrowings significantly delay planned activities and that less than full repayment
alters the budget priorities originally established by the appropriations committees.
Others, however, argue that borrowing is necessary because of the emergency nature and
high priority of firefighting and the appropriations committees determine which accounts
Assistance for Nonfederal Lands
The federal government, primarily through the FS, has a group of wildfire programs
to provide assistance to states, local governments, and communities to protect nonfederal
(both government and private) lands.1 Except for lands protected under cooperative
agreement, states are responsible for fire protection of nonfederal lands.
Most FS fire assistance programs are funded under the agency’s State and Private
Forestry (S&PF) branch. State fire assistance provides financial and technical help for
fire prevention, fire control, and prescribed fire use by state foresters, and through them,
to other agencies and organizations. In cooperation with the Administrator of General
Services (GSA), the FS is encouraged to transfer “excess personal property” (equipment)
from federal agencies to state and local firefighting forces. The FS also provides
assistance directly to volunteer fire departments. Since FY2001, substantial fire
assistance funding has come through wildfire appropriations, rather than S&PF. Finally,
the 2002 Farm Bill (P.L. 107-171) created a new community fire protection program to
authorize the FS to act on nonfederal lands (with the consent of landowners) to assist in
protecting structures and communities from wildfires.
Wildfire funds have also been provided for economic assistance. For three years
(FY2001-FY2003), FS wildfire funds were added to the S&PF Economic Action Program
(EAP) for training and for loans to existing or new ventures to help local economies. In
addition, in FY2001, the FS received fire funds to directly aid communities recovering
from the severe fires in 2000. The BLM has received continued funding to assist rural
areas affected by wildfires since FY2001.
Funding for these assistance programs is shown in Table 3. Funds in the wildfire
account are shown first, with funds for the FS S&PF cooperative fire programs below.
Total funds for assistance in protecting nonfederal lands increased substantially in
FY2001, from $27.2 million (all FS S&PF funds) to $148.5 million. Funding dropped
about 20% in FY2002 (to $117.5 million) and has fluctuated since. Wildfire funds for
these programs were enacted for the first time in FY2001 and have been maintained for
FS state and volunteer assistance programs and BLM rural assistance. However, FS
For more details on these programs, see CRS Report RL31065, Forestry Assistance Programs,
by Ross W. Gorte.
community assistance to aid communities affected by fires in the summer of 2000 was a
one-time appropriation, and FS EAP funds were enacted for only three years.
Other Fire Funding
A third category of wildfire appropriations includes money for fire research, fire
facility construction and maintenance, and forest health management. Wildfire funds for
fire research have been enacted for both the BLM and the FS for the Joint Fire Science
program. BLM’s appropriations, in the wildfire preparedness budget line item, were $4
million annually for FY1999 and FY2000, about $8 million annually for FY2001FY2005, and nearly $6 million for FY2006 and requested for FY2007. FS funds for Joint
Fire Science have been about $8 million annually since FY2002 (and previously included
an unidentified portion of FS research funds), but are proposed to be cut in half in
FY2007. The FS also has been appropriated wildfire funds for fire research and
development beginning in FY2001. These funds supplement monies in the FS research
account; however, because the portion of funds in the FS research account used for fire
research cannot be determined, total FS fire research funding is unknown.
Both the BLM and the FS have received funds to improve deteriorating fire facilities.
The BLM has long used a portion of its fire preparedness funds for “deferred maintenance
and capital improvements” (i.e, for fire facilities), but the level has fluctuated. FS wildfire
funds for fire facilities declined after the initial $43.9 million in FY2001 and ended in
FY2004. The FS also builds and maintains fire facilities with its capital construction and
maintenance account, but the portion used for fire facilities is unknown.
Finally, the FS has received wildfire funds for forest health management. This S&PF
program focuses on assessing and controlling insect and disease infestations on federal
and cooperative (i.e., nonfederal) lands, but includes efforts to control invasive species.
In FY2001 and FY2002, the FS received nearly $12 million annually in wildfire funds for
forest health management, rising to nearly $25 million annually for FY2004-FY2006, and
proposed to be cut to less than $12 million in FY2007.
Table 3. Federal Funding to Assist in Protecting Nonfederal Lands,
($ in millions; includes emergency appropriations)
FY05 Enacted Request
FS, Wildfire Mgt.
Table 4. Other Fire Management Appropriations, FY1999-FY2007
($ in millions)
FY05 Enacted Request