As catastrophic wildfires have become more common in the West, they’ve also become more expensive. That’s forced the Forest Service to raid money set aside for fire prevention and instead use it to pay suppression costs.
But last month, a long-sought after fix to what's know as "fire borrowing" made it's way through Congress. Now, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo (R) and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D) are celebrating their multi-year bipartisan efforts. The senators spoke at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise on Wednesday, alongside Sen. Jim Risch (R) and Congressman Mike Simpson (R).
“Those that pay any attention at all to what’s going on in Congress know that there’s a lot of partisanship and it’s difficult to get things through," says Crapo. "This made it through.”
Wyden put it this way:
“With the passage of our bill – no longer will fire prevention get short shrift in the West. Period, exclamation point.”
The money won’t fully kick in until 2020, with $2 billion set aside each year. Last year forest fire suppression costs exceeded $2 billion. But acting Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen says costs will go down as preventative measures like prescribed burning and logging are ramped up.
“I’m confident that this additional funds for the few fires that are considered disasters will be sufficient,” Christiansen says.
NIFC predicts an above normal chance for a significant fire season across the west -- including in southern Idaho.