Senate Panel Advances Firefighting Funding Fix

Provisions to pay for the most extreme wildfires through federal disaster funding were included in the Fiscal Year 2016 Interior Appropriations Bill, which was passed by a Senate panel on June 18. 

The funding method is similar to legislation introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who along with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) have been concerned that firefighting budgets in recent years have taken funding from other programs, including those that restore habitat and maintain jobs in national forests. The Wyden-Crapo bill, S. 235, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, would draw from disaster and emergency accounts whenever costs exceed 70 percent of the 10-year average cost of wildfire suppression, freeing up funds that could be used for wildfire prevention activities in the nation’s forests.

“I’m pleased the Senate Interior funding bill addresses the dangerous cycle of fire borrowing, because fires are getting bigger, hotter, and more expensive, and federal agencies shouldn’t have to go bankrupt to fight these devastating infernos,” Wyden said.  “But solving fire borrowing is only half the battle – Congress must also ensure that adequate funds are available to get out ahead of the problem and prevent wildfires from raging out of control in the first place.”

The Interior Appropriations measure, approved in a markup by the Senate Appropriations Committee, ends fire borrowing and calls for the use of disaster funding when 100 percent of the Forest Service budget for wildfire suppression is exhausted.

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