49 / 26
      39 / 22
      41 / 26

      Report: Firefighting costs eroding conservation

      FILE - This March 14, 2014 file photo shows Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. The U.S. Forest Service will soon have to tap into programs designed to prevent wildfires so that it can meet the expenses of fighting this summerâ??s round of fires. Vilsack said that about $400 million to $500 million in projects will have to be put on hold in what has become a routine exercise toward the end of the fiscal year. He predicted that the money set aside strictly for firefighting will have run dry by the end of August.

      WASHINGTON (AP) â?? The Obama administration is detailing the toll that the escalating cost of fighting forest fires has had on other projects as it pushes Congress to overhaul how it pays for the most severe blazes.

      In a new report issued Wednesday, the Agriculture Department said that staffing for fighting fires has more than doubled since 1998.

      Meanwhile, the number of workers who manage National Forest System lands has dropped by about a third.

      Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that accommodating the rapid rise in firefighting costs has harmed an array of conservation efforts. For example, spending that helps restore vegetation and watersheds after a fire has fallen 22 percent since 2001.

      The administration wants to use an already existing disaster relief fund to cover the expense of the most severe fires.

      Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

      Sinclair Television Group is a member of the AP Network.