July 9, 2008

House Passes Wildfire Emergency-Fund Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday passed a measure that would create an emergency fund to be used in the event of catastrophic wildfires.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement, or FLAME, Act would set up a pool of money separate from the annual U.S. Forest Service firefighting budget that could be dipped into during major emergencies.

At the same time, however, the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior would have to present Congress with a new comprehensive strategy for fire suppression that would address shortcomings identified by the General Accountability Office and the Agriculture Department.

Rahall said in a written statement that firefighting was one of the most serious and pressing issues facing our federal land management agencies.

Backers of the FLAME Act say 2 percent of the fires on federal lands can gobble up as much as 80 percent of the annual firefighting budget. The size of the emergency fund will be based on a 5-year average of the overall cost of fire suppression.

The act was passed on a voice vote and must next be approved in the Senate.