Obama to propose changes to forest fire funding, because climate change

Tucked inside of his 2015 “austerity”-ending budget request the White House will release next month, President Obama plans to propose a big change in how the federal government pays to fight wildfires — a move that, administration officials all too gladly contend, reflects the ways in which climate change is making those fires riskier and costlier than ever. Via the NYT:

The proposal will ask Congress to pay the costs of fighting extreme wildfires in the same way it finances the federal response to disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes, the officials said. When unpredictable events like Hurricane Sandy are destructive enough to be declared disasters by the president, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is authorized to exceed its annual budget and draw on a special disaster account. The account is adjusted each year to reflect the 10-year average cost of responding to such events.

Mr. Obama’s budget proposal would create a similar exception for the Interior and Agriculture Departments, which have agencies that are responsible for wildfire response. In recent years, as wildfires have become more frequent and intense in the Western United States, the cost of fighting the fires has soared.

In real dollar terms, adjusted for inflation, the Forest Service and Interior Department spent an average of $1.4 billion in annual wildfire protection from 1991 to 1999, according to a report by Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group. But that spending has more than doubled — from 2002 to 2012, the agencies spent an average of $3.5 billion to fight wildfires.

As they NYT notes, the measure is likely to garner a heap of bipartisan support, as there are already similar bills floating around the House and Senate, and an outside coalition of environmentalists, sportsmen, and timber producers have all been lobbying in favor of the idea. Indeed, the government’s fire-fighting budget has been coming up woefully short the past few years, as forest fires have definitely been getting “more frequent and intense” — but not at all for the reason President Obama wants us to believe as he continues his campaign to make it look like he’s Doing Something about climate change. In environmentalists’ rush to classify any hint of “extreme” weather or any natural or ecological disaster as the dire evidence of anthropogenic global warming, they are completely and willfully misdiagnosing the real and glaring problem here.

For most of the 20th century, the federal government’s forest fire policy on the one-third of the surface area of the United States it now owns was dominated by suppression tactics that have resulted in overly dense forests choked with too many trees and too much vegetation, all competing for precious water resources. Fire is just nature’s way of thinning out trees, curing blights, and maintaining generally healthy ecosystems, but for decades the Forest Service actively prevented this cyclical light burning. Throw a match or a lightning strike into any of dense, dry forests today, and of course it’s going to explode into a massive runaway fire.

Nutshell version: Through environmentalists’ misguided land management policies, the federal government directly created a gigantic, terrible problem, and now they need more of our tax dollars to try and solve it. Perfect.