Perdue urges senators to support ‘emergency funding’ for forest fires
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today hosted six western senators – Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Steve Daines, R-Mont.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Jim Risch, R-Idaho; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. – at the U.S. Forest Service for a 2017 fire briefing and told them Congress should treat major fires the same as other disasters and that those fires should be covered by emergency funds so prevention programs are not raided, USDA said in a news release.
“This has been a tremendous fire season,” said Perdue. “As wildfire costs exceed $2 billion, I appreciate those in Congress who recognize this funding issue and are working to make a permanent fix that allows us to manage our forests preemptively. While we can’t stop these wildfires, we know we can be prepared in a much better way.”
After the briefing by Forest Service officers, Perdue said that he has been working with the Office of Management and Budget for support for emergency funding for firefighting, and has gotten positive signals but not a final statement of support.
Crapo said that both the administration and Congress “need to pay attention to this” and that the measure should be attached to the next emergency funding bill.
Both Crapo and Wyden noted that they have been working on the bill for six years but that a series of disagreements have derailed it.
Wyden said he and Crapo both believe that active forest management can prevent the big fires that have been taking place. Perdue agreed.
“With your leadership, let us not let anything to derail the effort,” Wyden said to Perdue. Wyden added he is sure that there will be another disaster bill and that Perdue’s efforts “give us new momentum.”
As background, USDA noted that the fire suppression portion of the Forest Service budget is funded at a rolling 10-year average of appropriations, while the overall Forest Service budget has remained relatively flat. Because the fire seasons are longer and conditions are worse, the 10-year rolling fire suppression budget average keeps rising, consuming a greater percentage of the total Forest Service budget each year. This increase forces the agency to take funds from prevention programs to cover fire suppression costs.
USDA also released a video of the briefing.
–The Hagstrom Report
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