BOISE, ID -- U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is again pushing to change how the federal government pays to fight catastrophic wildfires. The Oregon Democrat joined Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Jim Risch (R-ID), Monday, to present new research showing how treatment and restoration projects get shorted when funding is diverted for firefighting efforts.
The Oregon Democrat told reporters, "Again and again, the three of us have pointed out the cost to the rural west and to America for this broken, dysfunctional mess of a budget, which is how we fight fire in America, today." He added, "As a result of shorting prevention, when it gets hot and dry and lightning strikes in our part of the world, all of a sudden we have an inferno on our hands. You borrow the money to put the fire out and the problem just gets worse and worse. We have a solution to that and it doesn’t cost any extra money." He says using FEMA money to fight the country's biggest wildfires instead of pulling from the U.S. Forest Service budget would cost the federal government the same amount of money, but would keep money available for critical forestry projects.
Wyden is optimistic a Conference Committee scheduled to begin in September will help advance his bipartisan bill designed to change the current funding model. "We will have a chance to finally address this issue. We will have all the principals at the table; the issue is in play in both the House and the Senate. Suffice it to say, some of our colleagues have different kinds of approaches, but there is wide support."
In 2015, the Forest Service spent $1.7 billion to fight wildfires; 10 times the amount spent in 1985.