WASHINGTON – Nearly $3 million in stimulus money targeted for fighting wildfires is being spent to restore public parks and watersheds in the nation’s capital.
The Forest Service has directed that $2.8 million in “Wildland Fire Management” funds, approved under the economic stimulus law, go to groups that will create “green jobs” in the District of Columbia. The projects are intended to restore public parks and watersheds in the city and highlight the value of urban parks.
The spending angered a group of Western lawmakers, who noted that the District of Columbia has no national forests and that forests throughout the West continue to burn.
“The last major fire in D.C. was likely lit by British troops in 1814,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who is leading Western lawmakers’ effort to strip the city of the money. “There are many wasteful and wild schemes born in Washington, but this takes the cake.”
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, called it unreasonable that federal firefighting money is going to areas where there are no forest fires.
A spokesman for the Agriculture Department, which oversees the Forest Service, said the lawmakers’ anger is misplaced. While the stimulus law targets “Wildland Fire Management,” the term encompasses a broad range of activities, including forest health protection and rehabilitation and activities on state and private lands, said spokesman Caleb Weaver.
“Wildland fire management is not just for fighting fires,” Weaver said, noting that the stimulus law allocates $500 million for that broad category. Half the money is to be used for wildfire prevention on federal lands through activities such as clearing underbrush and other hazardous fuels. The other half is for similar work on state and private lands, as well as for projects to improve forest health and ecosystems, Weaver said.