In Congress, Left and Right Unite to Create Emergency Wildfire Fund

Friday, June 05, 2015
Sens. Mike Crapo and Ron Wyden (photo: Kris Connor, Getty Images)

When it comes to destructive wildfires, liberals and conservatives in Congress have come together to fund firefighting efforts in anticipation of another bad season in the western states.


Last year, the federal government spent a billion dollars putting out enormous blazes that consumed public lands and private properties. Experts say the expansive wildfires were a product of climate change, too much development near parks and forests, and a buildup of forest debris that helped fuel the infernos.


This summer could be more of the same, but the cost of fighting the fires might go even higher. The projection by the U.S. Forest Service is $1.6 billion. With costs rising, lawmakers and groups on both sides of the aisle are proposing the government change the way it funds firefighting efforts.


“The current system is not working the way it should,” Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) told National Journal. “We worry about every upcoming wildfire season. We're really not comfortable until the first snow comes.”


Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) have joined together on legislation that would create a separate disaster account to pay for wildfires. For seven of the past 12 years, according to High Country News, the agency has engaged in “fire borrowing,” a term used to describe the raiding of funds from other programs to finance firefighting efforts. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has said it will happen again this year, particularly due to global warming’s role in extending the fire season—now 80 days longer than it was just 15 years ago.


As with the bipartisan support in Congress, the Widen/Crapo legislation is backed by organizations that often don’t agree on things, including the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club.


Additional legislation introduced by Barrasso and fellow Republican senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona would block the Forest Service from borrowing from other programs and require it to project its annual firefighting costs. But their bill also includes a provision that would lead to the thinning of forests, which many Republicans believe is a prerequisite for battling forest fires, according to the Journal.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

America’s Forests Are Facing a Wildfire Crisis (by Clare Foran, National Journal)

Support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (Partner Caucus on Fire Suppression Funding Solutions)

Congress Considers Treating Wildfire Like Other Natural Disasters (Elizabeth Shogren, High Country News)

The Rising Cost of Wildfires (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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