Senators Release Draft Bipartisan Legislation on Fire Funding

By Greg Pilchak

On Wednesday, May 25th, leaders on the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee released draft legislation whose goal is to improve wildfire budgeting and forest management. The bipartisan legislation is the culmination of recent Committee efforts to examine and find solutions to problems such as “fire borrowing,” the speed of environmental reviews, and fire suppression strategies.

State Foresters urge leaders in Congress to pass legislation that fixes the broken wildfire funding system and addresses much-needed forest management reforms.

The primary goal of the draft legislation is to remedy the “Self-destructive fire borrowing,” which Sen. Crapo explains, “has impacted all aspects of the Forest Service’s budget, resulting in less management of our forests, fewer jobs, more disease and insect infestation and the downgrading of habitat for wildlife and sportsmen.” The legislation would allow for a transfer of funding to the Forest Service and Department of the Interior through a budget cap adjustment once all appropriated suppression funding has been exhausted. In low-fire years, the agencies could allocate suppression funding to fuel-reduction efforts in order to prevent future wildfires and protect high-value watersheds.

The bill would streamline environmental assessments and impact statements for forest management activities by limiting the number of alternatives required for consideration. The proposal also provides for the use of drones and GPS in fighting and preventing fires.

NASF applauds the persistent effort to fix the endemic problem of “fire borrowing” and reform forestry management practices and appreciates the opportunity to participate in this bipartisan legislative process.

NASF is carefully evaluating the language and will prepare a letter for the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The letter will acknowledge these measures and offer suggestions to improve outcomes for long-term forest health and sustainability, as well as address the changes needed to fix the growing fire suppression share of the agency's budget and its impact on other important programs.

Read more about NASF's position on wildfire funding.