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Wildfire disaster funding bill garners support


More than 250 groups from across the country jave joined Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to express support for passing the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act to ensure vital resources in the fight against catastrophic wildfires in the West ahead of this year’s fire season.

The 261 organizations, including the Nature Conservancy and the National Rifle Association, wrote to all 535 members of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to show the importance of passing the bill.

“Fire season is almost here, and for Oregonians and others in the West, who know that wildfires are no less destructive than other natural disasters, it’s past time to end the destructive cycle of playing catch-up on wildfire funding,” Wyden said. “I’m glad to have these groups standing with Sen. Crapo and me as we continue to push for our fix to address these wildfires before they start.”

“These groups are helping sound our call to action, which became even more urgent today with news that the fire outlook is worsening,” Crapo said. “According to Chief Tom Tidwell, there is a 90-percent chance the Forest Service will run out of money to fight fires at a time when 58-millon acres of national forests face a high or very high risk of severe wildfire. We have got to perform the management that will reduce catastrophic fires and make sure resources for that management, and to fight fires, are available.”

Wyden and Crapo reintroduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act on Jan. 22. The bill ends the cycle of underfunding fire suppression, which currently forces federal agencies to steal from fire prevention just to put out fires.

Instead, Wyden and Crapo’s bill will end this so-called “fire borrowing” by funding the largest wildfires from a similar disaster account used to fund other natural disasters. The Interior Department and the Forest Service estimate these fires – about 1 percent – consume 30 percent of firefighting budgets.

In March, Wyden and Crapo secured language in the Senate budget to allow a funding cap adjustment that has prevented agencies from treating wildfires as natural disasters under the federal budget.

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would move any fire suppression spending above 70% of the 10-year average to a disaster funding account that is separate from Forest Service and Interior budgets. The bill now has 14 bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate and 79 representatives have signed on to the House version.

Read the letter here .

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