Walden co-sponsors wildfire bill

Walden-gregBy Oregon Congressman Greg Walden

Greg Walden supports plan to reform wildfire budget

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) announced he has co-sponsored a bill to address perennial wildfire budget issues. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R. 3992) aims to end the current practice of “fire borrowing,” using funds from fire prevention accounts in order to pay for wildfire suppression when costs exceed an agency’s wildfire budget.

“Federal forest policy is broken, and so is the way we budget for major wildfires. Year after year, federal agencies are forced to take money from forest management and fire prevention programs to pay to fight wildfires. That doesn’t make sense for our forests or for the taxpayers. This broken cycle needs to end, which is why I’ve co-sponsored this common-sense bill,” Walden said.

“I’m pleased that fixing our broken fire funding system has bipartisan support in the House, the Senate, and from the White House. Fixing this flawed funding method is a good first step, but we also need to fix federal forest management to prevent catastrophic wildfire, improve forest health and create jobs. Last September, the House passed a bipartisan bill to do just that, and I urge the Senate to rapidly pass this plan,” Walden continued.

Federal wildfire suppression expenditures surpassed budgeted amounts eight times over the past ten years. When this happens, agencies are forced to take funds from accounts used to pay for active forest management activities, such as hazardous fuels reduction projects. And because of a lack of active forest management, wildfire suppression costs are rising. Two decades ago, the Forest Service devoted 13 percent of its budget to wildland fire management. In 2013, this took up 41 percent of the budget.

H.R. 3992 would fund routine firefighting through the normal budget process. Catastrophic wildfires, though, would be funded through national disaster programs used to pay for other disasters like hurricanes and floods. These catastrophic fires represent about 1 percent of annual fires but make up over 30 percent of the costs.

The proposal has support on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate, and the President announced today that he would incorporate the plan into his 2015 budget proposal.

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