August 27, 2008

Firefighting Forces Cuts Elsewhere

HELENA, Mont. - The cost of fighting large fires in California and elsewhere is forcing the U.S. Forest Service to divert hundreds of millions of dollars set aside for work including roads, trails, recreational improvements - even fire prevention.

In a memo this month to regional foresters, Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell said spending on fires could reach $1.6 billion this year, about half the agency's budget.

"All of you are aware of the serious nature of this year's fire season and the issues faced by the agency in paying for fire suppression costs," Kimbell wrote. "At this time the only option for financing the shortfall is to use the agency's transfer authority."

The memo makes no mention of layoffs but cautions officials to "use prudent cost-saving judgment" in hiring and in approving non- critical overtime.

The agency started transferring money in the middle of August and expects to take a total of $400 million from other areas through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Such transfers have occurred several times since 2000.

Environmentalists predicted fire spending could end up being closer to $2 billion, and transfers could run as high as $700 million. Among those programs seeing cuts are fire prevention and safety.

Other funds will be coming from restoration projects, building maintenance, land acquisition plans, research and other areas.

Originally published by Associated Press .

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