Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, moved another step forward in providing a bipartisan wildfire funding solution that will ensure vital resources in the fight against catastrophic wildfires across the West.
The senators attached a provision to the Senate budget that sets the stage for passing the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which Wyden and Crapo reintroduced on Jan. 22. The bill ends the cycle of underfunding fire suppression, which currently forces federal agencies to steal from fire prevention just to put out fires. Instead, Wyden and Crapo’s bill will end this so-called “fire borrowing” by funding the largest wildfires from a similar disaster account used to fund other natural disasters. The Interior Department and the Forest Service estimate these fires – about 1 percent – consume 30 percent of firefighting budgets.
The language in the Senate budget adjusts a funding cap that has prevented agencies from treating wildfires as natural disasters under the federal budget.
“Oregonians and Americans across the West whose homes and lives are threatened by massive wildfires every year will tell you – wildfires are no less destructive or devastating than hurricanes, tornadoes and floods,” Wyden said. “Yet no other agencies are required to pay for natural disasters out of their regular budgets. This bill ends the cycle of underfunding the work that can prevent fires from starting in the first place.”
“In seven of the last ten years, the Forest Service has run out of money budgeted to fight fires; it then dips into other funds that were intended for other important projects like fuel reduction and efforts to stop future fires, improve forest health and create jobs,” Crapo said. “This cycle of borrowing must end and, with it, the uncertainty for those living and working on our forest lands. We should be better stewards of our public lands and make more efficient use of our budgeted dollars to fully address the needs of our forests.”
The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would move any fire suppression spending above 70% of the 10-year average to a disaster funding account that is separate from Forest Service and Interior budgets. The bill now has 11 bipartisan cosponsors.
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