This winter, we experienced one of the all-too-common side effects of our changing climate as the Thomas Fire burned. It is now considered one the most devastating fires in the history of California, costing almost $200 million to fight.
As business leaders and outdoor enthusiasts whose health, livelihoods, and businesses depend on well-maintained public lands, we are grateful to Congressmember Salud Carbajal for his leadership in improving how the government deals with wildfires nationwide.
When natural disasters happen, including hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes, various government agencies typically help with recovery. At the federal level, there is special dedicated funding for these efforts, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). But for years, most wildfires have been excluded from getting these dollars. Instead, it is up to the Forest Service or individual states to deal with the repercussions of fire disasters, which are only getting worse each year because of the impacts of a climate change. For the Forest Service in particular, this has meant that firefighting has been consuming a larger and larger portion of its budget, requiring the Forest Service to take money from other important programs like trail restoration, outdoor recreation, and maintenance.
Congressmember Carbajal’s leadership to fix this antiquated system is arguably one of the biggest wins for the outdoors that we’ve seen in years. The Forest Service and Department of the Interior no longer have to borrow from other parts of their budget, including funds earmarked for outdoor recreation, to address wildfire disasters. Now, they will be able to call on disaster funding after they run out of fire suppression money. And the amount each agency has to budget for wildfire suppression is fixed based on a 10-year average, so it won’t keep going up. The measure also includes sensible reforms like expanding good neighbor authority and stewardship contracts. These are overdue repairs and will have long-lasting positive effects for public lands.
Fire funding has had broad, bipartisan support for years. Unfortunately, this meant that it was also the target of politicians who used it as leverage, trying to roll back the public process or sneak in policies that would harm our public lands along with a fire fix. Last year, Congressmember Carbajal defended against a fire bill loaded up with anti-public lands provisions. Deceptively titled the “Resilient Federal Forests Act,” the bill would have stripped away the environmental analysis and public process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as the Forest Service developed forest plans and created giveaways for the timber industry.
Instead, Congressmember Carbajal invested time and effort to pass a comprehensive and bipartisan fix for wildfire funding that doesn’t sell out our public lands or poison the public process. This leadership will pay long-term dividends toward protecting the landscapes of southern California that we love.
Lisa Pike Sheehy is vice president of Environmental Activism for Patagonia, Inc. Gordon Seabury is the CEO of Toad&Co, a Santa Barbara-based outdoor lifestyle apparel company. Chris Orr has spent the last 25 years advocating, stewarding, and caring for the National Forest and public lands in the Santa Barbara area.