Federal land managers have been fighting an uphill battle to gain additional funds to reduce the threat of wildfires in the West, according to National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis.
However, recent fires such as the Rim Fire that burned into Yosemite National Park seem to be sending the message to the Office of Management and Budget that more money is needed to reduce fuels, the director said during a recent "National Webchat" with NPS staff across the country.
"My heart goes out to Yosemite National Park, which is dealing with the Rim Fire and to all the National Park Service employees who are currently deployed at Planning Level V. I'm sure we've got hundreds and hundreds of firefighters out there, on the line right now and entire organizations," Director Jarvis said in a response to a question concerning the backlog in "fuel mitigation treatments" -- forest thinning and prescribed burns, for example-- in the parks.
"To be very blunt about it, it has been a struggle in here for the big fire management agencies, the Forest Service, the BLM [Bureau of Land Management], the Park Service, and Fish [Fish and Wildlife Service], to make our case to OMB [Office of Management and Budget] and to the appropriators about fire," he said. "As a consequence, our fire program presuppression, really, fuels control, and all those kinds of things have been in decline. This is what you get. You get an incredible fire year.
"We are just lucky we haven't had as many starts as we could have had. The fuels conditions out there are incredibly dry. We are looking at long-term drought and climate change issues," continued Director Jarvis. "The good news of all of that is that the fires that we are seeing, the intensity of fires like the Rim Fire, are finally getting the attention of OMB to say, 'Hey, maybe we do need to change the way we are doing the fire allocation and put some money back into this.'
"Unfortunately, disasters get attention. This is one that is on the horizon. All of us who have been in a fire completely understand this. It's just the folks that have never worked a fire that don't seem to get it. We are making a case right now."