Like most parts of state government, the Texas Forest Service is bracing for budget cuts. What distinguishes the Forest Service is that the agency is also helping battle one of the worst spate of wildfires Texas has seen in decades.
As we reported this morning, the Texas House and Senate have proposed budgets that would slash funding for the agency's Wildfire and Emergency Program by more than 30 percent. Most of the cuts would translate into fewer grants for volunteer fire departments to buy new equipment, according to Robby DeWitt, the agency's associate finance director.
Texas is one of the few states that relies primarily on volunteer fire departments to protect rural areas from wildfires.
DeWitt stressed that the agency would make sure the cuts don't impact training of firefighters.
The Forest Service finds itself in a very different situation compared to 2008, when it was warning lawmakers that it was underfunded and that wildfires around the state were getting bigger and more destructive as a result. The Legislature responded by boosting the agency's funding in 2009 by more than $15 million.
Now lawmakers are planning to cut the agency's budget to close to its 2008 level.
That warning from three years ago came in a routine Legislative Appropriations Request that agencies file prior to each legislative session. The entire request is 102 pages but we've embedded the key pages below and highlighted some interesting passages regarding the agency's request.
Yesterday, Gov. Rick Perry called on Texans to spend the next three days praying for rain to address the wildfires. We asked Perry's office for the governor's thoughts on the future of the Forest Service's funding.
"We’re still working through the budget process, but the governor is committed to continuing to work with lawmakers in the House and Senate to craft a budget that prioritizes essential services, including public safety, without raising taxes," spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said.
(Photo credit: Rodger Mallison/Star-Telegram)