SENATOR SAYS ASH BORERS ARE DRAMATICALLY SPREADING ACROSS BUFFALO AND WESTERN NY; SCHUMER BILL WILL OPEN UP MILLIONS TO BETTER FIGHT WILDFIRES & PROTECT EXISTING FUNDING TO COMBAT ASH BORERS THAT ARE KILLING TREES ALL OVER WNY
Due To Budget Restrictions, Funding Critical For Combating the Emerald Ash Borer Must Go To Fight Wildfires Every Year; Senator Says Wildfires Should Be Treated Like Any Other Natural Disaster and Benefit From Eligibility for Additional Disaster Funding, Allowing Existing Invasive Species Funding That Combats Ash Borer To Remain Intact
Invasive Species Like Emerald Ash Borers Are Wreaking Havoc In Buffalo, Ravaging Trees in Delaware Park and In Neighborhoods Across the City and the in Surrounding Suburbs
Schumer: Funding Is Desperately Needed To Fight Ash Borers in Buffalo
During a visit to Delaware Park in Buffalo, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed that critical federal funding that is supposed to be used to stop the spread of invasive species like Ash Borers in Buffalo and Western New York, has to be redirected to pay for fighting wildfires every year outside of New York State, due to severe budget restraints. Schumer said that the U.S. Forest Service should have the flexibility to apply for additional disaster funding to fight wildfires, like other federal agencies can do for any other natural disaster, so that existing federal funding intended to combat invasive species like the Ash Borer remains intact. Without the necessary funding, Ash Borers will continue to kill trees in Buffalo and disturb the natural balance of forests in Upstate New York, which provide recreational opportunities to many and support tourism. Schumer therefore urged his colleagues to immediately support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015. This bipartisan bill would help provide budgetary relief for the Forest Service, so that funding for programs like those that combat the Ash Borer in Buffalo can remain intact through the summer, and also grant additional flexibility to the Forest Service to better fight wildfires.
“Invasive species like the Emerald Ash Borer are spreading dramatically across every region of Upstate New York, and particularly here in Western New York,” said Schumer. “Funding intended for use in preventing the spread of these dangerous species in trees like those in Delaware Park right here in Buffalo is critical. This funding is regularly disrupted when the Forest Service is forced to use it to cover shortfalls in their wildfire programs. That is why we need a long-term fix to ensure we can fight the spread of species like the Emerald Ash Borer while at the same time providing better resources to combat wildfires.”
Schumer explained that the Ash Borer problem in Western New York is only getting worse, and federal resources are needed to combat the invasive species’ spread. Senator Schumer stood near two trees in Delaware Park that were recently “girldeled” by the Olmsted Parks Conservancy. This method attracts the Ash Borer to specific trees, keeping them from infecting healthy trees. But for some trees it's too late; across Western New York, municipalities have been forced to remove dead trees killed by Ash Borers. In Cheektowaga, for example, 200 trees were removed last year. Dead trees are a public safety hazard, and treatment for healthy trees is expensive. According to the Buffalo News, the overall economic toll of the Ash Borer is $2 billion per year. Since their arrival in the U.S., the Ash Borer has killed an estimated 50 million Ash trees across the country. With this invasive species spreading across Upstate New York, Schumer said the Ash Borer could threaten the approximately 2,670,752 acres across Upstate New York that are covered in Ash trees. As of 2015, in Western New York, there were approximately 330,169.6 acres covered by Ash trees that were being threatened.
Schumer explained that current federal policy has created budget constraints through imposed spending limits for fighting wildfires, which is based on a 10-year average. But because these fires are becoming increasingly more expensive to fight, funds are quickly depleted. When the funds for fighting these wildfires are exhausted, the Forest Service, under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is then forced to use funding from other programs to cover the shortfalls in their wildfire budget. Schumer said this process – known as “fire borrowing” – is a direct result of the fact that the Forest Service is subject to strict budgetary restraints and that any emergency funding provided for wildfires must be offset by cuts to other programs.
Schumer said this “fire borrowing” ultimately makes it harder for the agency to effectively prevent and fight fires and disrupts funding for other essential programs, and demonstrably limits the effectiveness of those other programs.Schumer said that this strict budgetary constraint is unlike funding for other disasters, such as the funding available to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to respond in the aftermath of a hurricane or other major natural disaster. Instead, the Forest Service must use funding from its other programs to cover the rising and unpredictable costs of wildfires. As a result, it is forced to take funding from other vital programs, like the one that helps the Forest Service fight invasive species such as the Emerald Ash Borer. Last year alone, the Forest Service had to transfer $700 million from other programs to fight wildfires.
Schumer said repeatedly borrowing funding from programs to cover shortfalls in other programs creates long-term structural budget issues and sets up unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles. In order to avoid this “fire borrowing,” Schumer is cosponsoring and pushing legislation, the Wildlife Disaster Funding Act of 2015, which would allow the Forest Service access to disaster funding to pay for emergency wildfire costs. Specifically, this would include applying for disaster relief funds to cover the cost of wildfire fighting when regular funds are exhausted. In addition to providing greater financial flexibility for wildfire programs, it would also preserve the funding stream for programs that attempt to eliminate invasive species like the Ash Borer. This legislation was introduced by Senator Ron Wyden [D-OR]. Schumer said fighting wildfires and preventing the spread of invasive species are both top priorities. Ultimately, this legislation would provide budgetary relief so programs like those that combat the Ash Borer in Upstate New York can remain intact through the fiscal year.
The Ash Borer is a bright green beetle that is invasive and aggressive, and it has been particularly damaging to New York State Ash trees. This insect primarily targets Ash trees and kills its host by burrowing into their bark and destroying the trees’ ability to bring water from the roots to upper branches. Infected trees usually begin to die within two to three years. It is often not discovered that a tree is infected, however, until it is too late. Schumer said the Ash Borer presents a major threat to Upstate New York because these trees are an integral part of its ecosystem and scenery. On top of this, Schumer said it is particularly dangerous when 50-foot tall, dried-out and brittle Ash trees, often prone to snapping when an Ash Borer has done its work, are scattered across the backyards of homeowners throughout New York State.
Schumer was joined by Stephanie Crockatt, Executive Director of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Andrew Rabb, Deputy Commissioner for Parks and Recreation, City of Buffalo; Paul Maurer, Chairman of Re-Tree WNY.
“Ash Borer is devastating our tree population in parks across Western New York,” said Stephanie Crockatt, Executive Director of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy. “These trees not only contribute to the beauty of our parks, they also contribute to the overall ecosystem and the health of our communities. We appreciate Senator Schumer's advocacy to protect funding to combat this invasive species that threatens to wipe out thousands of trees in Buffalo and Western New York.”
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