Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-05), along with Reps. Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Greg Walden (OR-02), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), and Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) today applauded the inclusion of emergency funding for wildland fire suppression in the supplemental appropriations bill just passed by the House of Representatives. This comes a week after Congressman Schrader led a bipartisan letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) calling on the Administration to include “comprehensive forest management and wildland fire budgeting reforms as part of the next disaster relief request as soon as possible.”
The Oregon lawmakers have repeatedly urged House leaders to include funding for the US Forest Service (USFS) in the wake of massive fires that have burned nearly 700,000 acres across Oregon. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has announced that Fiscal Year 2017 has been the most expensive firefighting year on record.
“Fixing the way we pay for wildfire suppression and prevention has been one of my legislative priorities since coming into federal office over eight years ago,” said Congressman Schrader. “For the past three Congresses, I’ve introduced a bipartisan bill to put an end to the practice of fire-borrowing. I am very pleased that this disaster is receiving needed funding, and is being treated with the seriousness it deserves. We have a long way to go in the work to curb wildfires and the devastation they inflict, but securing this funding is an encouraging step forward.”
“I’m happy to see Congress acknowledge the pressing need for additional funding for wildfire suppression in one of the worst fire seasons in decades,” said Peter DeFazio. We must take steps to ensure the USFS and Department of Interior have the funding they need, such as considering wildfires to be natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes. Without such steps, the destructive cycle of fire-borrowing will only continue.”
“I am proud to have worked with the administration and my colleagues in the Oregon delegation to secure this much-needed funding to cover the cost of devastating wildfires across our state and much of the West,” said Rep. Walden. As another fire season raged on, once again, the Forest Service needed to rob money from important fire prevention work to pay for fighting wildfires. This bill replenishes those accounts to pay for the cost of this fire season, but it is past time that we fix how we pay for fires and treat them like the natural disasters they are. It’s also past time for Congress to fix federal forest policy and address the underlying issues leading to catastrophic fires that choke our skies and communities with smoke each summer.”
“Spurred by climate change, we’ve witnessed millions of acres in the West exploding in out-of-control wildfires—touching Oregon’s own beloved Columbia Gorge,” said Rep. Blumenauer. “The House took a step in the right direction by approving much-needed funding to help those communities affected. More must be done, however, to end fire-borrowing and make sure agencies have the resources they need.”
“The wildfires this season have been devastating to Oregon. They have destroyed large portions of forestland, reduced air quality across the state, and left a lasting mark on many communities,” said Congresswoman Bonamici. “I thank all of the firefighters and first responders who worked endless hours to keep Oregonians safe. I’m pleased that Congress is working together to increase funding for fighting fires, and hope we can finally put an end to the practice of fire-borrowing.”
In June, Congressman Schrader reintroduced his bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act along with Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID) to fix the current budgeting process for wildfires. In recent years, Congress has budgeted for wildfire suppression by appropriating money according to the average cost for wildfires over the past ten years, known as the “ten-year average.” When costs exceed an agency’s fire budget, that agency is forced to borrow from non-fire accounts to pay for fire suppression. This practice is known as “fire-borrowing.” Fire borrowing was intended to be an extraordinary measure to help in bad wildfire years. However, this practice has become the norm and not the exception, which has caused wildfire costs to increase. According to the Forest Service, wildfire costs were 56% of their total budget in 2016. In 1995, the Forest Service spent only 16% of their total budget fighting wildfires. By 2025, that number could increase to nearly 70% if nothing is done to fix the budgeting process. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would end fire borrowing by treating wildfires like other natural disasters when wildfire suppression costs are exhausted.