Washington, D.C. – With deadly fires still raging in California and across the West, a bipartisan group of senators led by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and others today pressed Senate Leaders Mitch McConnell and Charles E. Schumer in a letter to include a wildfire funding fix in disaster aid legislation the Senate will soon consider.
In addition to Crapo, Risch, and Wyden, the senators who signed the letter are: Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Jon Tester, D-Mont..
The House of Representatives passed disaster aid legislation last week to provide funding for hurricanes and wildfires that have hit the country this year. That bill will allow the U.S. Forest Service to pay back the funds it has been forced to borrow from other accounts to cover the cost of fighting wildfires. However, the House-passed legislation does not include a long-term solution to provide consistent funding for fire suppression and prevention.
The bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA) would fix the way the federal government funds and fights wildfires. It would end the practice known as “fire borrowing” by funding the largest wildfires from disaster accounts similar to accounts used to fund other natural disasters, freeing up funding for fire prevention and forest health projects.
“We request that you work with us to include the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, legislative language that ensures the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior (DOI) have stable, reliable funding to help prevent wildfires,” the senators wrote.
So far, the Forest Service and the Interior Department have spent almost $2.9 billion this year to put out wildfires. The Forest Service has had to take funds from other accounts, or “fire borrow” to pay for the record-breaking cost of this year’s fires.
“Passage of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act will free up funds to do the prevention work that reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfires that our country has suffered this year -- funding that could have prevented the deaths of Americans, destruction of hundreds of homes and businesses, the loss of business revenue due to evacuations, and the loss of millions of acres of forests,” they wrote. “We ask that you work with Western senators to include a comprehensive wildfire funding fix in any disaster supplemental bill that comes before the Senate.”
In September, a similar group of bipartisan senators wrote to the Senate leaders urging them to include the bipartisan wildfire funding fix in any disaster aid package that passes through Congress.
Wildfires have burned about 8.7 million acres of land this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Tens of thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate from their homes in California this year alone.
Wyden and Crapo introduced bipartisan legislation to fix the way the federal government funds the fight against wildfires, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, in 2013.
Read today’s letter here.