Money allocated for suppressing fires to run out

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Money allocated for suppressing fires to run out
Theresa Carroll, center, and Larry Russell, right, of the Shasta County Fire Dept. Montgomery Creek, put out hot spots left behind by the Eiler Fire on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, in Hat Creek, Calif. Officials hoped humid conditions Monday will aid firefighters battling two wildfires in Northern California that have scorched more than 100 square miles and are menacing a small town. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
A charred forest is seen in the aftermath of the Eiler Fire on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, near Burney, Calif. Light rain and higher humidity are helping crews make progress in their fight against two wildfires in the Northern California forest that are just miles apart. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Remington Jones, of the Point Reyes National Seashore, Calif., Engine 1130 looks for hot spots left behind by the Eiler Fire on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, near Burney, Calif. The fire is threatening more than 700 homes, some of which have been evacuated. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Remington Jones, of the Point Reyes National Seashore, Calif., Engine 1130, looks for hot spots left behind by the Eiler Fire on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, near Burney, Calif. The fire is threatening more than 700 homes, some of which have been evacuated. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Remington Jones, of the Point Reyes National Seashore, Calif., Engine 1130, works on putting out hot spots left behind by the Eiler Fire on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, near Burney, Calif. The fire is threatening more than 700 homes, some of which have been evacuated. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Matt Rietenbach, right, of the Shasta County Fire Dept. Montgomery Creek, hoses down hot spots left behind by the Eiler Fire on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, in Hat Creek, Calif. Firefighters were focusing on two wildfires near each other in Northern California that have burned through more than 100 square miles of terrain. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
This Monday, July 28, 2014 photo released Thursday, July 31, 2014 by the U.S. Forest Service, shows flames and smoke in the Sierra National Forest, Calif. On Thursday, Fire crews are battling a blaze in Sierra National Forest about 60 miles northeast of Fresno, Calif. that was creeping closer to the Mammoth Pool Reservoir, a popular recreation spot that supplies drinking water. (AP Photo/U.S. National Forest Service, Burt Stalter)
The remains of a burned home lie in the Foresta community in Yosemite National Park in California on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Fire crews gained ground Tuesday on two of the largest wildfires in California, lifting evacuation orders for about half the homes in the path of a blaze in Yosemite and redeploying firefighters battling another fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento. (AP Photo/Al Golub)
A burned home and pickup truck lie in the Foresta community in Yosemite National Park in California on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Fire crews gained ground Tuesday on two of the largest wildfires in California, lifting evacuation orders for about half the homes in the path of a blaze in Yosemite National Park and redeploying firefighters battling another fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento. (AP Photo/Al Golub)
This image released by the Madera County Sheriff's Department shows a bear running through smoke in the Sierra foothills in Sierra National Forest, Calif, on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Fire crews gained ground Tuesday on two of the largest wildfires in California, lifting evacuation orders for about half the homes in the path of a blaze in Yosemite National Park and redeploying firefighters battling another fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento. (AP Photo/Madera County Sheriff's Department)
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA - JULY 28: The El Portal Fire at 5% containment burns on the western edge on July 28, 2014 in Yosemite National Park, California. More than 500 fire personnel have been battling the fire which has spread across 2,600 acres and threatening nearby homes and roads. (Photo by Don Smith/Getty Images)
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By KEVIN FREKING

WASHINGTON (AP) - 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 summer's round of fires.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday 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 run out by the end of August.

"When we begin to run out of money we have to dip into the very programs that will reduce the risk of these fires over time," Vilsack said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press.

Some 30 large fires are working their way through federal and state forests in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. With lawmakers back home for the August recess and the public's attention focused on those efforts, Vilsack is lobbying for the administration's request for an additional $615 million to fight wildfires this fiscal year and next.

Lawmakers from both parties generally agree the current funding model is broken. They say it's self-defeating to curtail activities designed to prevent forest fires, such as thinning overgrown forests and clearing underbrush, to cover the full costs of fighting blazes that have become more destructive over the past decade. But there is disagreement about how to fix the problem.

The administration and some lawmakers have called for tapping the government's fund for battling natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes to pay for the most devastating forest fires. They say the change would not impact the government's response to other types of disasters.

The House Budget Committee, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, has said it would be better to work within existing spending caps to fully fund both the firefighting efforts and prevention work.

That would mean finding savings through other the Department of Agriculture and Interior programs. House Republicans also argue that a bill they passed last year requiring greater timber harvesting on federal lands could help reduce the amount of money needed for fire prevention efforts. The administration opposed that bill saying it undermined several laws and rules established to protect the environment.

House Democrats overwhelmingly support efforts to treat the worst wildfires like other natural disasters. Vilsack said it's important to put the most devastating wildfires on par with other natural disasters. "And that's what a forest fire started by lightning most definitely is," Vilsack said.

Vilsack is also making the case that diverting money to fight forest fires isn't just a problem for the Western states. He said it forces officials to scale back forestry projects in every state.

Over the past two years, the Forest Service has transferred about $950 million from other accounts to battle fires, and over the past 12 years, the amount transferred totals about $3.2 billion.



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