Idaho, Oregon Lawmakers Unite for Wildfire Money

By Tom Bacon

Federal lawmakers from two fire-prone states - Idaho and Oregon - are urging both houses of Congress to make funding for wildfires a bit less harum-scarum and disruptive than it is now, and to do it before the wildfire season erupts.

When the costs of fighting wildfires exceed budgeted amounts for the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, federal bureau managers are forced to find the money somewhere. Invariably, it means that the money is stripped away from other uses, that planned projects get short shrift.

In the past few years, wildfire fighting budgets have been woefully inadequate as the number and size of fires have grown. So the entire Idaho congressional delegation and Oregon senator Ron Wyden are pushing for their bill - the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act - to gain some legislative steam before the summer recess.

They point to a new report from the US Forest Service which lists the impacts of taking money away from budgeted projects to pay for firefighting. In Idaho, for example, last year road and bridge maintenance in national forests was put off, trail work was delayed, and road decommissioning and culvert replacement work was postponed.

In Oregon, several critical projects to improve watershed health and fish habitat were deferred, culvert and storm water improvement jobs were put off.

The wildfire funding bill would would treat wildfires as natural disasters, and provide separate funding up to $2.7 billion a year. The chief of the Forest Service has already warned that fighting wildfires this year could cost nearly $2 billion, roughly $500 million more than budgeted.

Whether the goading by the Idaho and Oregon lawmakers will be effective is anybody's guess. After all, this is an election year.
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