2017 has been a rough year for natural disasters. As southern states have battled hurricanes, firefighters on the other side of the U.S. have been battling to put out forest fires, the costs of which have now made it the Forest Service's most expensive year on record in regards to fire suppression.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced on Sept. 14 that Forest Service spending on wildfires this year has exceeded $2 billion.
The record-breaking figure does not include the costs of local and state governments or the Interior Department, which is in charge of both the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
The Interior Department claims to have spent $391 million battling forest fires so far, bringing the combined total with U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Department to just under $2.4 billion, according to The Associated Press. The previous record for combined spending on wildfire suppression was $2.1 billion in 2015.
The states most affected states by this fire season have been those along the West Coast, the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountain range, the USDA reports. The fire season still has several weeks left.
Costs were pushed up by the 48,607 wildfires that have burned roughly 13,000 square miles across 10 states as of Sept. 14, reports AP.
According to the USDA, Congress gave the Forest Service additional funding beyond its 10-year average -- which is $1.6 billion -- to fight wildfires in this fiscal year. As of Sept. 14, the fiscal year has three weeks left.
Despite receiving additional funding, the Forest Service has already had to borrow funds from other programs to meet fire suppression demands. Perdue blamed Congress' method of raising wildfire funding without raising overall funding as contributing to the agency's budget troubles.
"Forest Service spending on fire suppression in recent years has gone from 15 percent of the budget to 55 percent -- or maybe even more -- which means we have to keep borrowing from funds that are intended for forest management," Perdue said.
Perdue claimed the uncertainty of how much funding might be needed for fire suppression has resulted in a hesitancy to use funds for forest maintenance. He believes lack of maintenance could in turn lead to "a fuel load in the forest for future fires to feed on."
Indeed, fuel load has been a concern for Paul Hessburg Sr., a Forest Service researcher and landscape ecologist who said that forests were at "powder keg levels," AP reports.
"That’s wrong," Perdue said in reference to the state of forest fire prevention, "and that’s no way to manage the Forest Service."
Sources: AP via US News & World Report, USDA via The Kemmerer Gazette / Featured Image: U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Michael LaFontaine / Embedded Images: PLOS via USDA Forest Service/Wikimedia Commons, U.S. Forest Service Photo by John Newman, from the interagency/Inciweb.org via Wikimedia Commons