What is the FLAME Act of 2009?

This morning, one of my colleagues, Kelli Merritz, tweeted at me, telling me that there was a Senate hearing of the Energy Committee on wildland fire management. You can watch the whole 2-1/4 hrs session here (sadly, I cannot seem to embed it):  http://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2013/6/full-committee-hearing-exploring-wildland-fire-management.

There was talk, throughout, as to whether the FLAME Act had been properly implemented since it was signed into law and how to make sure that happens. I had no idea what it was, so I went and looked it up….

The main provision is the establishment of two FLAME Funds; one for the Forest Service funded at $413 million and one for the Department of the Interior funded at $61 million in FY2010. These funding levels are not permanent and are likely to change in coming years. The FLAME Act requires the agencies to develop new methods for determining fire suppression funding estimates in the future. Not surprisingly, the FLAME Act acknowledges that the previous method of using the 10-year rolling average has not been effective: “the 10-year rolling average has failed to keep pace with actual funding requirements and has led to significant disruptions as agencies borrow from non-fire programs accounts when funds are exhausted”.

One of the main objectives of the policy change was to reduce the transfer of funds to wildfire suppression from other agency programs, a practice which has led to significant disruptions in other non-fire programs. Congress expects the administration to appropriately and fully estimate suppression costs, but not at the expense of other agency programs.

The FLAME Act requires the Agencies to report to Congress on a quarterly basis on the use of FLAME funds, a provision designed to avoid last minute emergency actions. The conference report language encourages suppression planning from year to year through a new approach to budgeting for both the FLAME funds and the Wildland Fire Management appropriation. The funds can only be used after a declaration by the Secretary of the Interior or Agriculture that a fire is large or complex or if annual suppression accounts are depleted.

Source: Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center (direct link to paper)

I was initially posting this just to share what the FLAME Act is, since this is and will continue to be an ongoing topic of discussion if you’re reading / watching things about wildland fire  funding policy. Frankly, though, the entire session is really quite educational and if you can come up with 2 hours to watch it, you absolutely should.

Note that session didn’t start for 25 minutes so fast forward to there. Also, if you’re based in New Mexico, Martin Heinrich comes on at about mark 45:00 and if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, you can watch Doug Decker, Oregon’s State Forester at about 46:50

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