USA — Congress is making progress on two issues of special importance to the West fighting wildfires and providing funding to counties with large chunks of federally owned land.
On the latter, thousands of counties and school districts that were receiving funding through the expired Secure Rural Schools program could see a quick injection of federal funds after Congress returns April 13 from its two-week spring break.
On wildfires, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho joined forces before the recess to attach a provision to the Senate budget resolution that should ease the way for a new funding mechanism for fighting the most severe wildfires.
Under the new plan, funding for these fires would be treated the same as other disasters such as hurricanes.
This structure would reduce what is known as “fire borrowing” where the Forest Service and the Department of Interior raid funds to fight fires with money that would have been used to help reduce the risk and severity of fires. Since 2002, the agencies have exceeded their budgets for fighting fires 11 times.
The Senate bill that outlines the new system, called the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, is sponsored by Wyden. It has 12 co-sponsors, Colorado Sens. Michael Bennett, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican. The House version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, already has 65 co-sponsors evenly split between the parties.
During the last Congress, the House version of the bill had 140 co-sponsors. And 236 conservation, recreation, timber, tribal and other organizations signed a letter supporting the measure.