Coalition praises introduction of bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding bill

ARLINGTON, Va.—The Partner Caucus on Fire Suppression Funding Solutions, a broad, bipartisan coalition of conservation, timber, tribal, recreation, sportsmen and employer groups, praised Representatives Mike Simpson (R-Id.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) for introducing the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017 (WDFA). The bill would change how the federal government budgets for the suppression of large wildfires to make that process similar to the way other disasters are funded.

For years, the increasing costs of wildfire suppression have hurt the ability of the USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior to implement land management activities. Since 1995, the USDA Forest Service fire budget has shifted from making up about 15 percent to more than 50 percent of the overall agency’s budget. This has caused a significant shift in funding and resources away from land management programs to fire programs. And even then, those increased levels often do not meet the agency’s suppression needs. Since 2002, the agencies have exceeded their budgets to fight emergency wildfires 12 times and have had to “borrow” funds from other programs.

This bill’s new approach to wildfire suppression funding would help avoid the disruptive practice of “fire borrowing.” But most importantly, it addresses the continued erosion of land management programs that results from the increasing suppression levels. The combination of cutting into programs when budgeting and then “borrowing” from those programs when suppression runs out toward the end of the year undermines the Department of the Interior and USDA Forest Service, making it near impossible to meet their land management goals – including wildfire prevention programs that actually reduce wildfire risk and costs.

This bill is similar to the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015, which earned more than 150 bipartisan cosponsors in the House and Senate but did not receive a vote before the congressional session ended. When the House introduced a similar bill in 2015, more than 200 organizations signed a letter supporting the legislation.

“America deserves fair and honest federal budgeting that sustains healthy lands and waters for future generations,” said The Nature Conservancy’s Cecilia Clavet on behalf of the Partner Caucus on Fire Suppression Funding Solutions. “Representatives Simpson and Schrader have proposed a comprehensive fire funding fix that would stabilize suppression levels and minimize borrowing, which will ensure funding for wildfire first responders while protecting critical land and water programs. We are committed to supporting their efforts to get a fire funding solution passed in Congress this year.”

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017 meets all the criteria the coalition has defined for a comprehensive wildfire suppression funding solution, including the following: 1) addresses the continued erosion of agency budgets that results from the increasing 10-year average and stabilizes the level of funding for suppression within the agencies, 2) accesses disaster funding for extraordinarily costly fires, including those that may be calculated as part of the 10-year average and 3) significantly reduces the need to transfer from non-suppression accounts and programs.

“The National Association of State Foresters supports the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017 and appreciates the leadership of Representatives Mike Simpson and Kurt Schrader. This legislation supports critically needed changes to how federal wildfire suppression is paid for in the United States,” said Bill Crapser, Wyoming State Forester and President of NASF. “State Foresters know it’s always ‘wildfire season’ somewhere. So far this year, wildfires have scorched half a million more acres than at this time last year. It’s time to fix wildfire funding. We urge Congress to adopt this legislation, which will help state forestry agencies and their partners deliver on their missions to conserve, protect and enhance America’s forests.”

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