Pew Recommends Improved Accounting of Wildfire Spending and Enhanced Mitigation Efforts

Better data collection and additional funding would support federal, state efforts to manage the fiscal impact of wildfires

Improving Accounting of Wildfire Spending and Mitigation

The  federal government established the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission in late 2021 to develop policy recommendations and strategies for Congress “on ways to better prevent, manage, suppress and recover from wildfires.” In response to the commission’s call for policy recommendations related to science, data, and technology and appropriations, The Pew Charitable Trusts recently submitted two letters based on its 2022 report “Wildfires: Burning Through State Budgets.”

The first letter offers recommendations on ways to better track wildfire spending data, while the second recommends additional federal investment in mitigation strategies.

The responses, dated Feb. 22, 2023, and March 9, 2023, respectively, note that government spending on wildfires is on the rise: Combined funding from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service nearly doubled from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal 2020. Although comprehensive information on state and local spending does not exist, some available data indicates that state and local spending is likewise increasing.

Overall, however, information about expenditures is limited and fragmented. The lack of good data leaves gaps that obscure the complete picture of government spending. And such gaps make it difficult for policymakers at all levels of government to make informed decisions about how best to mitigate and manage the cost of wildfires.

Pew’s recommendations include steps that Congress can take to improve tracking of both federal and state expenditures. Better tracking of wildfire spending would benefit lawmakers in their oversight capacity and could inform state and federal investments in cost-saving mitigation efforts.

Related to mitigation, Pew’s research found a growing consensus within the wildfire management community that more investment in these activities is necessary to reduce the severity and impact of wildfires in the long term. Despite this consensus and recent investments, the Pew report found that states face persistent barriers to allocating sufficient funds to advance mitigation projects and activities that could reduce fire risk. Pew highlighted concerns about prioritizing suppression funding over mitigation funds, and difficulties navigating the complicated process for accessing and implementing federal funds. Additionally, the scope and scale of the problem are massive: An estimated 24.2 million homes face moderate or higher risk from wildfires.

In its recommendations, Pew focused on steps Congress can take to increase and facilitate investments in mitigation at all levels of government. Policymakers should commit to ongoing funding, provide incentives for states to invest their own funds, and increase funding for improved coordination.

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