Washington, D.C. – Today Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, introduced a bill to reform federal wildfire policy, target more funding for fire prevention, and treat the largest wildfires as natural disasters.
“This is about as common-sense as it gets: Congress needs to fund the biggest, most catastrophic wildfires like the natural disasters they are, and free up funding to break the destructive cycle that underfunds fire prevention and shorts fire management,”Wyden said. “This bill ends that cycle, puts money back into prevention, and provides the resources agencies need to effectively protect rural communities and forests.”
“This approach will give our firefighters and managers more tools for efficient and effective fire management and strengthen fire prevention efforts,” Crapo said. “Forest health, communities and public safety will all benefit.”
The bill ends the cycle of underfunding fire suppression accounts. Currently agencies base wildland fire suppression budgets on the average costs of the past 10 years, which has underestimated the actual costs 8 of the past 10 years, and forced the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department to steal money from other important programs to make up the difference.
This measure would move any fire suppression spending above 70% of the 10-year average to a disaster funding account that is separate from Forest Service and Interior budgets. Interior and the Forest Service estimate 1 percent of fires consume 30 percent of firefighting budgets, and thus should be treated as true natural disasters.
Removing those megafires from the regular budget could free up to $412 million for land management agencies to fund fire prevention and hazardous fuels reduction projects that can help break the cycle of increasingly dangerous and costly fires.
The bill text and a summary are attached below.