USA — Who would have thought it possible: A sensible measure to reform federal wildfire policy appears to be making headway in Washington, D.C.
… President Obama said he would endorse a plan being pushed by a bipartisan collection of Western lawmakers to fund major wildfires the same way as other natural disasters a move which could clear the way to free up funding to prevent future fires.
Specifically, Obama said he plans to incorporate a bill (S. 1875) by Oregons two senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, as part of his 2015 budget proposal. The Senate bill also is sponsored by Idahos two senators, Mike Crapo and James Risch. The House companion measure is sponsored by Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader and Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson; Oregon Rep. Greg Walden has introduced a similar bill.
Currently, federal agencies base wildfire suppression budgets on the average cost over the past 10 years. But that approach has underestimated the actual costs of fighting fires over eight of the last 10 years. Heres what happens then: The U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior are forced to take money from other programs to cover the shortfall, a practice known as fire borrowing.
And typically, the programs that get shortchanged tend to be efforts such as the work to thin dangerous and flammable undergrowth and other fuel from our overgrown national forests. One result, of course, is that fires in our forests tend to burn hotter, increasing the cost of fighting them, which then forces the agencies to suck more money out of areas such as forest maintenance, and so it goes. …
The solution in S. 1875 would treat the largest 1 percent of wildfires as natural disasters. Such a designation would allow those fires to be fought using money from the same disaster account that funds hurricane and other natural disaster relief efforts. …
Removing those big fires from the regular budget could free up to $412 million for agencies to use to fund fire prevention and fuel reduction projects a small step, considering the amount of work to be done in our forests, but a significant one nonetheless.
Legislature should butt out of referendum process
Oregons system of initiative and referendum gives voters the power to enact laws themselves when the Legislature cannot or will not, and to overturn laws voters dont like. Needless to say, lawmakers are not always pleased with this populist process, but most of the time, they let it take its course. This week, though, the House stuck its nose where it doesnt belong.
At issue is a law the Legislature passed allowing immigrants in the United States illegally to obtain permits to drive in Oregon. We supported the law and still do: The immigrants in question are here, and theyre driving whether anyone likes it or not, so why not encourage them to know the rules of the road and to get insurance?
… Opponents of the law promptly launched a referendum campaign to repeal it, saying the state should not be rewarding people who are in the country illegally. Enough signatures were gathered to put the statute to a vote, and normally, that would be that.
But majority House Democrats in Salem, who want to see the law upheld, have jumped in to write their own ballot title for the measure in a transparent attempt to boost the laws chances. Its a cynical ploy …