A picture of Senator Ron Wyden
Ron W.
Democrat OR

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  • Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

    by Senator Ron Wyden

    Posted on 2015-01-22

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    WYDEN (for himself, Mr. Crapo, Ms. Cantwell, Mr. Risch, Mr. Bennet, Mr. Gardner, Ms. Baldwin, and Mr. Daines): S. 235. A bill to provide for wildfire suppression operations, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Budget.

    Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, today I am reintroducing the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015 with a bipartisan group of my colleagues, to ensure that Federal agencies have the resources and funding they need to not only fight the wildfires that erupt yearly in our Nation's forests, but to effectively manage forests to prevent future infernos.

    For decades, our country has experienced tragic and costly wildfire seasons. Year after year, communities are displaced, natural treasures are destroyed, and the brave men and women who fight these fires risk their lives, and some don't come home. Due to climate change, drought, and overstocked and under-managed forests, the risks from these infernos continues to grow.

    As the Forest Service needs to direct more and more resources to fighting fires, and less to managing the forests, it is transforming itself into the ``Fire Service.'' Over the past 20 years, substantial spending on Federal wildfire suppression activities has grown. In 2013, the Forest Service devoted 41 percent of its total budget to wildfire management, compared to just 13 percent of its total budget in 1991. In 8 of the past 10 years, the Forest Service has exceeded its budget for wildfire suppression, requiring the Agency to conduct what's known as ``fire borrowing'' to cover wildfire suppression costs. The funds being borrowed come from accounts that should be used for hazardous fuels treatment and other forest management activities, and are unfortunately rarely, if ever, paid back.

    This ``fire robbery'' is disruptive, unproductive, and undermines the core mission of the Forest Service, particularly as forest management program budgets continue to get slashed. Hazardous fuels treatments have been proven to reduce fire risk, yet Federal agencies don't even have the opportunity or the funding to conduct these treatments when fires are breaking out and threatening lives and property for months on end.

    Today I am reintroducing the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, to help our Nation find a better way to manage our forests, prevent future wildfires, and fund wildfire fighting activities, both small and catastrophic. Major wildfire events should be treated as the natural disasters that they are, and should be funded as such. This bill establishes parity for wildfire funding, putting it on equal footing with other natural disasters like floods and hurricanes. Whether it's water, wind, earth, or fire, the earth's natural disasters can all cause devastation and should be addressed equally.

    A Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture analysis shows that 1 percent of wildfires represent 30 percent of agency costs. To ensure that fighting the largest infernos doesn't cripple agency budgets, the bill would fund the largest fire even under disaster programs, leaving funds available for routine wildfire fighting and forest management activities. It does this by moving any spending above 70 percent of the 10-year rolling average for fire suppression outside of the agencies' baseline budget and makes these additional costs eligible to be funded under a separate disaster account. This should free up discretionary funds that can now go toward hazardous fuels projects that will improve the health of our forests and ultimately prevent future wildfires.

    I am pleased to be joined again by Senator Crapo in introducing the bill today, as well as Senators Cantwell, Risch, Bennet, Gardner, Baldwin, and Daines. I look forward to working with my colleagues toward enactment of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act in the 114th Congress.

    ______ By Ms. HEITKAMP (for herself, Ms. Murkowski, Mr. Tester, Ms. Hirono, Mr. Schatz, Mrs. Feinstein, Mr. Franken, Mr. Hoeven, Mr. Udall, Ms. Klobuchar, Mrs. Murray, Mr. Thune, Ms. Warren, Mr. Heinrich, Mr. Moran, Mr. Whitehouse, Mr. Blumenthal, Ms. Collins, Mrs. Boxer, Mrs. Fischer, Ms. Stabenow, Ms. Cantwell, Ms. Baldwin, and Mrs. Shaheen): S. 246. A bill to establish the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Indian Affairs.

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