Oregon Sen. Wyden pitches legislation to free up funding for catastrophic wildfires

Wildfires often cause the costliest property damages, causing billions in damage without currently being treated like other large-scale natural disasters. Oregon’s 2013 wildfire season was the most severe in more than 50 years, burning 103,000 acres and costing the state $122 million.

To cover the costs of large fires, agencies often have to draw money from other programs such as fire prevention. Under Wyden’s  proposal, the Forest Service and Interior Department would be responsible for paying the first 70 percent of average fire costs. Anything above that would come from emergency accounts. Federal estimates show that 1 percent of fires account for 30 percent of costs.

The measure has support from timber industry, state forestry, recreation and environmental groups, who say it will make spending more predictable on fuel reduction programs such as thinning. Wyden is joined by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo in his efforts to introduce this new legislation.