After a prescribed burn in New Mexico “escaped” and led to the largest fire recorded in state history, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is demanding survivors foot the bill for the resulting damage. 

The Hermit’s Peak Calf Canyon Fire ravaged 432 residences and destroyed 341,000 acres. 

Despite President Joe Biden claiming “the federal government’s covering 100% of the cost” during a June visit to New Mexico, survivors must pay 25% of costs to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP)

The disaster assistance program “provides payments to eligible owners of nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) land in order to carry out emergency measures to restore land damaged by a natural disaster.”  Cost-share payments cover upwards of 75% of costs from losses and are “limited to $500,000 per person or legal entity per disaster.”

One victim who met with President Biden during his June visit, Daniel  Encinias, learned he’ll have to bear the brunt of costs resulting from fire damages. 

Encinias submitted an application to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to fix his well, but was told to share 25% of costs based on a federal statute that could not be waived as it did not fall under Biden’s declaration.

As more high-intensity wildfires rage across the West, compounded by the three-month long suspension of the prescribed burn program, residents of fire-prone areas aren’t being well-served by the Biden administration’s inaction on proactive forest management. 

Red tape is holding back impactful reforms from being enacted, preventing the USFS from carrying out necessary mechanical thinning and prescribed burns to mitigate and lessen the frequency of high-intensity fires. Moreover, the Biden administration undid Trump-era National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reforms that would have streamlined critical projects. 

Mismanagement plaguing the U.S. Forest Service does a disservice to the agency and the foresters who proactively advance sound recommendations to maintain and encourage healthy forests. 

To learn more about proactive forest management, read my April 2022 Policy Focus.