The following post is from Eric Steen, Deputy Director of Communicaitons for the BlueGreen Alliance.
I’m a fan of 80’s and 90’s actions movies, particularly bad ones. If it’s got Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Sly Stallone, or Arnold in it, I’ve probably seen it (and enjoyed it). So, when I was reading a Washington Post article about how firefighting capability in the U.S. is going to be cut during the wildfire season because of the sequester cuts implemented earlier this year, I obviously harkened back to a 1990’s action movie — starring none other than Howie Long — called Firestorm (I’d link it at IMDB but then you’d be tempted to click and find out more about this terrible movie. You’re welcome for saving you from that).
The movie was bad. Let’s just say that Howie Long may have been a great football player and is a good commentator but his acting chops left a little to be desired. The premise was simple, Long played Jesse Graves, our “smokejumper” hero — basically a firefighter who parachutes into remote areas to fight wildfires — who gets stuck in a secluded area fighting a fire where, inevitably, an escaped criminal mastermind and his men are trying to recover a bunch of money they stashed at some point.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself, what does Firestorm have to do with what is going on with the sequester? Good question. The answer is that, because of cuts to the Department of Agriculture, we’re put in the difficult position of moving money away from preventing wildfires to put money into firefighters who will have to fight them, during what is predicted to be the worst wildfire season in recent memory. Things like having people remove extremely flammable and hazardous materials from the path of wildfires may not get done. And, if it comes down to a firefight, there may be half as many firefighters as last season and 50 fewer trucks.
We may as well be relying on the fictional Jesse Graves to fight our fires.
From the Washington Post:
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said his agency, which is largely responsible for fighting monster fires along with the Interior Department, will try to manage burns with 500 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer engines and by shifting money earmarked for prevention to pay for fire suppression.
“I hope we can get through this fire season without any fatalities,” Vilsack said.
“When fires burn uncontrolled in our nation’s wildlands, it means a loss of homes, businesses . . . and all too often lives,” said Ernest Mitchell Jr., the U.S. fire administrator who joined Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell at a news conference in Boise, Idaho.
The sequester cut more than $115 million from the federal wildland fire program budget, USDA officials have said, at a time when the nation continues to face abnormally dry conditions, particularly in the West, as a result of climate change.
During one of the worst wildfire seasons on record amid a historic drought, the USDA Forest Service ran out of money last year to pay firefighters, operate trucks and fly aircraft. The agency borrowed money from fire management budgets, which help prevent fires, to pay for suppression.
There are basic things in our lives that we expect to pay for with our tax dollars. Things like firefighters being there to fight out of control wildfires. But, with the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., we’ve gotten to the point where saving homes and lives is less important than cutting a budget. Where are our priorities? How did our lawmakers let these untargeted, across-the-board budget cuts take effect? Especially during a wildfire season expected to be worse than last year — and will likely keep getting worse as the years go on and our climate continues to change.
The answer is simple. They put politics ahead of making us safe. And, that’s unacceptable.