Idaho, Oregon Lawmakers Lobby for Federal Money to Fight Fires

By Tom Bacon

Party affiliations and partisan differences will be parked at the door when western state members of Congress get a chance to lobby the nation's firefighter-in-chief for money to fight wildfires. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell is scheduled to visit the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise on Monday for a briefing on this summer's wildfire outlook.

And several lawmakers, plus Idaho Governor Butch Otter, plan to be there also, to bend Jewell's ear about a new wildfire funding plan they're trying to push through Congress. Senators Ron Wyden and Mike Crapo have co-sponsored a bill to pump new money into wildfire outbreaks so that the Departments of Interior and Agriculture would not have to cannibalize other programs to cover fire fighting costs.

Wyden's a Democrat from Oregon. Crapo's a Republican from Idaho. Their bill, now backed by several other senators of both parties, would automatically appropriate new funds when the cost of wildfire suppression tops 70 percent of the average costs over the past ten years.

The idea is included in President Obama's proposed budget, but his spending plan is unlikely to gain any headway in the GOP-controlled House. So the western state officials hope persuade Secretary Jewell to endorse their plan as a separate measure, apart from the overall budget.

The Wyden-Crapo bill is under review in the Senate Budget Committee which is chaired by Patty Murray of Washington.
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