Supporting Western Governors As They Deal with Wildfire, Drought, and Other Climate Impacts

Washington, DC - President Obama is committed to ensuring that his Administration is doing everything it can to help the farmers, ranchers, small businesses, and communities being impacted by wildfires, droughts, and other impacts of our changing climate.

Today, President Obama participated in a briefing on wildfire preparedness with the governors attending the Western Governors Association Meeting in Colorado Springs, Colorado, via video teleconference. The recently-released National Climate Assessment confirms that climate change is already affecting every region of the country, and that in the West, rising temperatures, drought, earlier snowmelt, and increased evaporation are leading to increasing demands for increasingly scarce water resources. This results in an extended summer dry season, more severe drought, longer fire seasons, and greater rates of fire spread. Compared to three decades ago, the western wildfire season is 60-80 days longer and more than twice as many acres are burning.

The President’s Budget this year proposed a new approach to addressing wildfire suppression costs – modeled on bipartisan proposals introduced in both houses of Congress – which would budget for extreme fires like other natural disasters, treating them as the catastrophic disasters they are. This new approach provides certainty in addressing growing fire suppression needs while better safeguarding prevention and other non-suppression programs from transfers that have diminished their effectiveness.

State by State Impacts of Insufficient Wildfire Funding

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released an analysis showing the impacts that limited funding had on local land management and wildfire mitigation in nearly every state across the country. This year’s fire season has already been so severe that the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior announced last month that they currently estimate exceeding their firefighting budget by as much as $1 billion, with a median estimate of $470 million in 2014.

In response to the wildfire, drought and other climate change impacts affecting the West, the Administration is announcing a series of actions at the Western Governors Association Meeting, including using Federal agencies’ existing authorities and working closely with state and local partners as they respond to wildfire season and continued drought. 

New Actions to Prepare for Wildfire, Drought, and Other Climate Impacts

  • Additional firefighting resources. Since last fall, the Forest Service has brought 8 additional next-generation large airtankers into service, including two planes within the last week.  This brings the number of large airtankers under exclusive use contracts with the Forest Service to 15.  The Forest Service expects to add at least two more in the coming weeks.  In addition to these planes, the Department of Defense is able to supply 8 C-130 aircraft as large airtankers.  Further, early next year, we expect to bring on the first of seven C-130H aircraft transferred from Department of Defense to the Forest Service.  Finally, federal agencies can also bring on additional large airtankers from Canada and Alaska on a call when needed basis. 

  • Increased efforts to fight insects and disease in nation’s forests. Approximately 81 million acres of the nation’s forests are at risk of insects and diseases based on the 2012 National Insect and Disease Risk Map. To help combat this problem, USDA recently announced action to help 94 national forest areas in 35 states to address insect and disease threats that weaken forests and increase the risk of forest fire. These areas are receiving an official designation that will provide the Forest Service, working collaboratively with stakeholders, additional tools and flexibility to more efficiently plan and accomplish restoration treatments in those areas. USDA also recently announced an initiative to help remove insect infected trees from National Forest Service lands. USDA announced today that the Biomass Crop Assistance Program has been reauthorized for $25 million annually with funding becoming available this week. This program supports the harvesting and transporting of forest residue to an energy facility for energy generation while reducing fire, insect and disease threats on public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. 

  • Increasing availability of drought and extreme weather information for Western Governors. Today, the Western Governors Association and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration signed a new Memorandum of Understanding to improve the drought and extreme weather information, analysis, and tools to support the resources management decisions of Western states. This partnership will support and strengthen the Western states' preparedness and response to significant weather and climate variability, including multi-year droughts, prolonged fire seasons, and devastating floods. 

  • Improving water and energy efficiency. Today, the Bureau of Reclamation will make $17.8 million in water and energy efficiency grants available to 36 projects in the Western United States to use water more efficiently, increase the use of renewable energy, and facilitate water markets. For example, the Duchesne County Water Conservancy District in Roosevelt, Utah, will receive a grant to install equipment to address water seepage and evaporation losses in the Colorado River, and the Natomas Central Mutual Water Company near Sacramento, Calif., will receive a grant to install an automated control gate in a local canal to save additional 3,800 acre-feet of water a year. View a complete description and learn more about the projects selected for water and energy efficiency grants here. 

  • Meeting future water demands in Western river basins. The Bureau of Reclamation today announced funding for three new comprehensive Basin Studies, which are cost-shared with non-Federal partners, to address how climate change may affect water supply, demand, and operations in the future, and to identify adaptation strategies to address imbalances in water supply and demand. The Bureau of Reclamation will make $1.8 million available for the Upper Red River Basin in Oklahoma, Upper Deschutes Basin in Oregon, and Missouri River Headwaters Basin in Montana to conduct comprehensive water studies. Like many river basins throughout the West, all three of these basins are facing current or projected imbalances in water supply and demand.

  • Additional support to California as it responds to and recovers from its historic drought. Last week, the Bureau of Reclamation announced the selection of projects for its Agricultural Water Conservation and Efficiency grants and CALFED Water Use Efficiency grants. The Bureau awarded $6.3 million in grants, which, with local cost-share contributions, will provide more than $36 million in water management improvement projects will be implemented during the next 24 months. When completed, these projects will yield over 35,000 acre feet of water savings annually. Through its CALFED Water Use Efficiency grants, $1.8 million was awarded to six projects across California. Combined with local cost-share contributions, more than $11.7 million in water management improvement projects will be implemented during the next 24 months under this program. The selected projects will conserve an estimated 3,600 acre-feet per year of water, contributing to the CALFED Bay-Delta Program objectives of improving ecosystem health, water supply reliability and water quality. California and federal agencies are partners in the 30-year program (2000-2030).

These actions join a variety of other Administration-led efforts to prepare states and localities. Through the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, the Administration is working with proven leaders in helping their communities adapt to the impacts of climate change to figure out how the Federal Government can best support their efforts. The National Drought Resilience Partnership is coordinating Federal efforts broadly across the country, and working closely with State, local government, agriculture and other partners to improve community preparedness and resilience to drought. For example, the White House, the Governor’s Office, Federal agencies, and California State agencies are coordinating in real time, with weekly meetings on water operations and economic impacts of the drought. Learn more about these efforts here.

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