Nature just upped the ante on the bet for survival of the planet. Fires are raging in the west and fury struck our southern states twice in two weeks – the likes of which has never been seen before.
A glimpse at a map of wildfires from Idaho to California gives the appearance of an entire mountain range ablaze. The satellite view of Irma stretched from Florida to the Great Lakes. It will take the determination and resources of the whole nation to recover from these catastrophic events. What is in place for that kind of response?
The National Forest Service tells us that our fire seasons average 78 days longer than in 1970 and twice as many acres burn as three decades ago. In 2015, 52% of NFS budget went to wildfire costs, a jump of 36% from 20 years ago.
This means that less money is available for restoration but also for protecting watersheds. It takes away upkeep of programs that support thousands of recreation jobs that boost the economy of rural communities.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is coordinating the hurricane relief effort, an agency where fully a third of its leadership positions have not been filled under this administration. Part of the help for rebuilding will come from Community Development Block Grant funding, administered through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, an agency which was slated to lose 13.2% of it’s budget.
Shortly after Harvey hit, the House and Senate passed a combined $15.2 billion in hurricane relief. But Harvey alone is projected to cost up to $180 billion. And what about Irma? James Lee Witt, a former FEMA chief, says, “It’s not enough. It would be lucky if it lasts 30 days with both of these events going on at the same time.”
There is one department of the federal government that consistently receives its budget requests and sometimes Congress even grants more. I was glad to see that multiple branches of the Department of Defense have been called to help in this disaster relief.
The Air Force flew 300 doctors to Florida where Air National Guard used drones to help search and rescue teams find victims, and the Aircraft Carrier Lincoln was sent for disaster relief. It is reassuring when the equipment, training and organization of our armed services can be devoted to such life affirming efforts--something other than war.
President Trump has threatened North Korea with fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen before. We’ve got our hands full dealing with the fire and fury that nature has unleashed. We would be much safer and more secure if a chunk of those defense dollars were directed to the agencies that respond to these national emergencies.
Susan Cundiff Chair, WAND Education Fund Board of Directors