Federal money earmarked to combat the emerald ash borer, an invasive Asian beetle that’s decimating eastern forests, is being reallocated to battle the forest fires raging in Western states, according to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Schumer told reporters he and two other senators – Ron Wyden of Oregon and Michael Dean Crapo of Idaho – are calling for legislation that would provide access to emergency FEMA money to the Agriculture Department’s U.S. Forest Service for battling the fires out west.
That – the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015 – would help preserve funds for the battle to save ash trees back east, Schumer said.
So far in 2015, Schumer said more than $700 million – more than 52 percent of the Forest Service budget – was redirected to the wildfires effort.
“That number won’t go down, it will only go up,” Schumer said. “The ash borer program is half as effective because of the need to go for wildfires.”
Schumer said there are about 50 million ash trees in the U.S. that could be threatened by the invasive beetle, including about 330,000 acres worth in Western New York and 488,000 acres in the Southern Tier alone.
Besides the environmental ramifications, Schumer said it also makes economic sense.
He noted the cost of targeting ash trees with protective treatments is roughly $100 to $350, but removing dead trees can cost upward of $800 – not to mention the potential liability that could result if the trees collapse on their own.
Schumer said he’s hopeful the legislation gets passed through Congress in coming months so that money can be restored to the ash borer program by the end of the year.