Congress is playing Russian Roulette with the West, and the gun’s chamber is spinning.
Congress has failed to allocate enough money and manpower to fight wildfires this year—even though elected officials have known full well since last winter that demands on federal firefighting resources would be extraordinary in the face of record high temperatures and drought conditions in the West.
Experts told Congress early on that this year’s costs for fighting wildfires on lands controlled by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service could hit $1.8 billion. Yet, funding is short by 26 percent, or $470 million. That’s a lot of boots on the ground, a lot of flying time and a lot of fire retardant.
A partial solution—to make disaster funds available for fighting fires—is still sitting in committee despite bipartisan agreement on the need for it
Yet, no one—including Idaho lawmakers—is sounding alarmed about the situation even though Idaho’s wildfires ignite toward the end of the fire season when money becomes scarce or nonexistent, and firefighters are tired.
Wildland firefighters don’t grow on trees. Fighting wildland fires is a science that requires training, expertise, experienced judgment and lots of manpower. No one can just grab a garden hose and have any chance of stopping a big wildfire.
Waiting to fund wildland firefighting is simply stupid. This isn’t just an “ain’t it awful” situation. Wildfires devastate communities, which the Sun Valley area recently found out the hard way—twice.
Since January, California has had 1,244 wildfires, three times the normal average. That doesn’t bode well for the rest of the West. What is Congress is waiting for?
Waiting and hoping it will rain is a fool’s solution—like hoping the hammer won’t come down on the loaded chamber in the deadly game of Russian Roulette.