Schrader, Bera, Simpson, Kilmer, Reichert Lead 54 Representatives Calling for Wildfires to be Treated Like Natural Disasters

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Washington, June 29, 2016 | Carlee Griffeth (202-225-5711) | comments

Representatives Kurt Schrader (OR-5), Ami Bera, M.D. (CA-7), Mike Simpson (ID-2), Derek Kilmer (WA-6), and David Reichert (WA-8) led a group of 54 other representatives in calling for an immediate fix to the practice of “fire borrowing,” which forces federal land agencies to take money from other important projects to cover the costs of dealing with wildfires. Many of these projects are used to prevent wildfires from spreading out of control. The Western United States is still experiencing dry conditions that have stoked wildfires for several weeks, with conditions primed for more to come. Last year, fires swept over 10 million acres and damaged communities and wildlife. Following the letter, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources pushed for an end to fire borrowing.

“Wildfire season last year devastated communities throughout Oregon and many states across the west, shattering spending records and forcing the Forest Service to divert more money to fighting fires from other programs designated for hazardous fuels reduction,” Schrader said. “When we have catastrophic wildfires in the west, these are our natural disasters just like the tornadoes and hurricanes that affect our friends in other parts of the country. It’s time that Congress recognizes this, and acts not only to address the funding issue, but also the root problem and that’s the mismanagement of our forests.”    

“The practice of fire borrowing is irresponsible – our first responders must have the resources they need to combat wildfires,” said Bera. “My home state of California has seen the terrible damage wildfires can do to homes, ecosystems, and entire communities – the same devastation that other natural disasters incur. We need to start treating wildfires like every other natural disaster that has access to emergency funding.”

“The severity of recent fire seasons underscores the fact that our current wildfire suppression budget does not work,” said Simpson. “The Forest Service budget for wildfire suppression was roughly 15% twenty years ago, now it is over half. Until we address the problem of fire borrowing, funds intended for forest management, including hazardous fuels removal, timber harvest, and trail maintenance, will continue to pay for fire suppression.”

“Increasingly intense wildfires are swallowing up the U.S. Forest Service’s budget,” said Kilmer. “The practice of fire borrowing cannibalizes funding from other important areas of the Forest Service like managing our forests. In the end that hurts forest health, hurts our ability to prevent fires, and hurts local economies. To reverse this trend the Senate needs to join the House in finally declaring that wildfires are a natural disaster and should be treated just like a flood or a hurricane.” 

“Last year’s relentless wildfires burned over one million acres in my home state of Washington, destroying homes that stood in their path and displacing families throughout our region,” said Reichert. “And while our brave first responders worked tirelessly to protect our communities, their efforts were limited by the resources available to them. This dangerous and irresponsible cycle of fire-borrowing must end. In order to prevent future wildfires, we must focus on addressing the issues that cause them in the first place.

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