Administration recognizes need for long-term fire fix
Washington, DC – Following numerous discussions among Western U.S. Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), and Administration leadership and agency officials, initial federal funding to begin fixing shortages in fire-fighting efforts known as “fire borrowing” are now being included in hurricane disaster budget recommendations.
Crapo, Wyden, Risch, Bennet, and other Western senators have pushed for a fire borrowing fix in the first spending bill possible. While not a permanent fix, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is recommending funding to replace the more than $570 million transferred away this season from forest restoration accounts to fight a record fire season. ”Because the need for this funding arises from unforeseen, unanticipated events, additional resources for the U.S. Forest Service should be provided as emergency funding,” Mulvaney wrote in a letter to leadership in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. “The Administration believes that the problem of wildfire “borrowing” must be addressed in a more structured, long-term manner,” Mulvaney said.
Crapo, Wyden, Risch and Bennet attended a briefing last week with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to press the issue. Crapo, Wyden, Risch, and Bennet have reintroduced legislation over several years to address how fighting record fires steers needed funds away from restoration budgets and creates a cycle of destruction because federal lands go untreated when funds are diverted to fight fires. In addition to their stand-alone legislation, Crapo, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, included wildfire language in a bill to reauthorize the national flood insurance program.
“I welcome this Administration’s demonstrated interest in preventing and managing wildfire disasters in the West,” said Senator Risch. “Ending fire borrowing has been a priority of mine for years, and I look forward to working with the Administration as a partner in reaching that goal.”
“Recognition by the Administration as to the need for emergency funding and that the record fires we’ve seen the last few years are an emergency is important,” Crapo said. “Director Mulvaney, Secretary Perdue and others agree with us that this is a long-term problem and we will continue working with them in an effort to end ‘fire borrowing’ for good for the safety of Americans and our landscape.”
“Wildfires burning across the West in another record-breaking fire year make these funds all the more urgent,” Wyden said. “This disaster funding will help our communities recover from the devastation of the West’s natural disasters now, and our bipartisan group of senators is not going to let up when it comes to pushing for our solution to end fire borrowing and stop the erosion of the Forest Service’s budget. It’s a good sign the administration agrees that the broken system of wildfire funding is a long-term problem that needs a long-term solution.”
“Catastrophic wildfires continue to plague the West, not only threatening communities and livelihoods but also draining the Forest Service budget," Bennet said. "My colleagues and I had a productive conversation last week with Secretary Perdue about the immediate need to end the practice of fire borrowing. We will continue to work together to ensure that Western communities have the resources they need to both recover from and mitigate wildfires.”
OMB Director Mulvaney’s recommendations come before the next disaster supplemental appropriations bill that Congress will consider this fall to aid in hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas. Crapo, Wyden, Risch, and Bennet note that similar natural disasters have also plagued Western states through massive fires on public lands.