H.R. 1404: Federal Land Assistance, Management, and Enhancement Act

H.R. 1404

Federal Land Assistance, Management, and Enhancement Act

Sponsor
Rep. Nick J. Rahall II

Date
March 25, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

 H.R. 1404 is being considered on the floor under a structured rule. This legislation was introduced by Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV) on March 10, 2009.

Bill Summary

FLAME Fund:  H.R. 1404 establishes a Federal Land Assistance, Management, and Enhancement (FLAME) Fund within the U.S. Treasury.  The FLAME Fund would be used to pay for emergency catastrophic wildfire suppression.  This would be separate from amounts annually appropriated to the Departments of Agriculture and Interior for wildfire suppression.  The bill authorizes such sums as may be necessary for the fund. 

Additionally, at the end of each fiscal year, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior would transfer any non-obligated wildfire suppression funds into the FLAME fund.  FLAME Fund amounts would be available only after the Secretary of Agriculture or Interior issues a wildfire emergency declaration. 

Wildland Fire Management Strategy:  The bill directs the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to develop a cohesive wildland fire management strategy within one year.  The strategy would include identifying cost effective fire management budgeting and addressing community risk levels.

Wildfire Grant Program:  H.R. 1404 would establish a grant program within the Departments of Agriculture and Interior to help communities carry out wildfire education programs, firefighter training, and equipment acquisition.  The bill authorizes such sums as may be necessary for this grant program.

Background

In the 110th Congress, the House passed a bill similar to this legislation (H.R. 5541) by voice vote, on July 9, 2008.

Wildfires are an important, and usually natural, ecological process which is vital for the productivity of ecosystems in North America.  However, the incidence of wildfires has increased in recent years, and due to population and infrastructure growth in the West, the effect of the fires on communities is becoming more severe.  Moreover, the costs associated with fighting wildfires near population centers and infrastructure is higher than in unpopulated regions. 

For these reasons, the overall cost of fire suppression has risen dramatically and created certain budgetary challenges for the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service, which have primary Federal responsibility for fire suppression.  Wildfire suppression activities account for 48% of the Forest Service's budget.  These costs have exceeded $1 billion in five of the past eight years.

Another factor concerning wildfires on public lands is the accumulation of "fuel loads" (undergrowth, etc.) in forests.  During the Committee on Natural Resources' hearings and markup of similar legislation in the 110th Congress, Republican Members stressed the importance of effective forest management, especially including fuel-reduction efforts.

The National Interagency Fire Center based in Boise, Idaho, coordinates Federal fire suppression efforts and draws on the resources of several agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the National Weather Service.

 

Cost

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has not yet produced a cost estimate for H.R. 1404.  However, CBO found that a similar bill passed by the House in 2008 (H.R. 5541) would cost $100 million over Fiscal Years 2009-2013.

 

Amendments

1)    Rep. Rahall (D-WV) #2:  Strikes from the bill the Sense of Congress designating the FLAME Fund appropriations as emergency spending.

2)    Rep. Perlmutter (D-CO) #21:  Clarifies that authorized fire suppression activities for the FLAME Fund include containment activities in response to crisis insect infestations to reduce the likelihood of wildfires.

3)    Rep. Polis (D-CO) #5:  Requires revisions of the cohesive wildland fire management strategy at least once every five years.

4)    Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) #15:  Requires advance notice in writing to adjunct landowners whenever the Department of Agriculture sets a prescribed fire on National Forest System land.

5)    Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) #18:  Requires the review of certain wildfires specified in the bill to include an assessment of any actions that could have been taken in advance of the fire to prevent or reduce the severity of the fire.

6)    Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) #19:  Requires the review of certain wildfires specified in the bill to include an assessment of the quantity of gases produced by the fire.

7)    Rep. Heinrich (D-NM) #4:  Requires the cohesive wildland fire management strategy to include among its elements a system to assess the impacts of climate change on the frequency and severity of wildfires.

8)    Rep. Minnick (D-ID) #20:  Requires that Secretaries take into account areas where insect infestation has created an extreme risk of wildfire when determining whether to declare that a wildland fire suppression activity is eligible for FLAME funds.

9)    Reps. Lujan (D-NM)/Markey (D-CO)/Connolly (D-VA) #7: Requires the cohesive wildland fire management strategy to include among its elements a system to study the effects of invasive species on wildland fire risk; and adds to the list of eligible uses for cost-share grants provided for in the bill implementation of fire-safety programs focused on the eradication or control of invasive species.

10)  Rep. Matheson (D-UT) #10:  Requires the cohesive wildland fire management strategy to include among its elements a plan, developed in coordination with the National Guard Bureau, to maximize the use of National Guard resources to fight wildfires.

11)  Rep. Roskam (R-IL) #1:  Prohibits obligation of funds in the Flame Fund until 30 days after the submission by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture an initial estimate of anticipated wildfire suppression costs for the current and following fiscal year.

12)  Rep. Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) #8:  Amends the definition of "fire-ready community" to provide that a community satisfies the definition if it is located within a priority area identified by fire risk maps, and meets two of the other four criteria listed in the bill.

13)   Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA) #14:  Authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to enter into contracts or cooperative agreements with a State Forester to prepare and implement "good neighbor" projects on National Forest System land to complement any similar project being performed on bordering or adjacent non-Federal land; provides that the decision to proceed with a good neighbor project is in the Secretary's sole discretion; and defines good neighbor projects to include certain fuels reduction projects.