Govs urge Congress: Pass wildfire funding bill

Govs urge Congress: Pass wildfire funding bill

29 July 2014

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USA — Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has joined California Governor Jerry Brown and Washington Governor Jay Inslee in calling for support of the federal Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, to provide the U.S. Forest Service with access to emergency funding for wildfire suppression and protection of programs aimed at reducing wildfire risk.

The Governors signed a joint letter on Friday addressing the congressional delegations of their states.

“Already, the citizens of our states have been affected by hundreds of thousands of acres burned, and this will likely continue throughout the summer,” the governors wrote in the letter. “Appropriate funding for the federal fire agencies in order to protect other vital forest health programs is key to the protection of natural resources in our states.”

Currently, the U.S. Forest Service does not have an emergency fund to pay for fighting wildfires. The U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior are projected to spend $470 million more than is available to fight wildfires this year, according to a congressionally mandated report from May 2014.

In the past two fiscal years, the Forest Service transferred more than $1 billion from other agency programs to fight wildfires.

The Department of the Interior transferred nearly $60 million to cover the cost of fighting wildfires during the same time period. These transfers often come from programs that proactively reduce fire risk.

The federal Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would target more funding to wildfire fighting efforts in a separate disaster account, ending the pattern known as “fire borrowing.”

The structure would be similar to how the Federal Emergency Management Agency pays for the costs of natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods.

Last year, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Idaho Senator Mike Crapo introduced the bill, which has the support of 12 cosponsors, including Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley.

As crews battle a slew of Oregon wildfires, both caused by nature and humans, Governor Kitzhaber released two recent public service announcements reminding Oregonians and visitors to practice basic fire safety while visiting Oregon’s scenic areas.

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