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September 20, 2017

Bennet, Gardner Introduce Bill to Permanently Fix Wildfire Funding

Washington, D.C. - Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) introduced an updated version of their bipartisan wildfire funding solution that would provide desperately needed funding for fire prevention.

"Catastrophic wildfires continue to plague the West, not only threatening communities and livelihoods but also draining the Forest Service budget," Bennet said. "We need to restructure the way we pay for fighting catastrophic fires to mitigate and prevent future wildfires. This bill would end the practice of fire borrowing-a necessary step that will enable the Forest Service to make responsible investments on the front end to restore our forests and safeguard our watersheds."

"It may not be getting headlines in the national news, but wildfires have burned millions of acres in the West this year and the communities impacted in Colorado need assistance," Gardner said. "I've been working to advance this legislation to stop fire borrowing for several years, and I appreciate the strong bipartisan support to ensure the Forest Service has the funds it needs for clean-up and prevention efforts while also finally requiring the government to treat wildfires like it does other natural disasters."

Unlike for other natural disasters, where agencies can draw from an emergency fund to pay for disaster response, the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department do not have access to disaster funds and are forced to "fire borrow" - or steal money from fire prevention and other important programs already funded in their agencies to pay to put out fires. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017 would end the destructive cycle of fire borrowing and stop the erosion of the Forest Service's budget by reforming the way the federal government funds wildfires.

Currently, federal agencies calculate wildfire suppression budgets based on the average costs of wildfire suppression over the past 10 years. But as fire seasons grow longer and wildfires become more expensive to fight, Congress is forced to appropriate more funding to an outdated budgeting system that almost always underestimates the actual cost of fighting fires.

This legislation would fund wildfires as natural disasters and protect the agencies' fire prevention budget by putting a freeze on the rising budget costs of the 10-year average. It would make funding available after the appropriated fire suppression funds are spent, allowing the Forest Service to use its fire prevention funding for its intended purpose - completing hazardous fuels reduction projects that have been shown to help break the cycle of increasingly dangerous and costly fires.

Earlier this month, Bennet sent a letter with a bipartisan group of Senators to Senate Leaders Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) urging them to include a wildfire funding fix in any future disaster aid legislation that passes through Congress. Gardner has also directly spoken with McConnell about the wildfire funding fix.

In addition to Bennet and Gardner, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jim Risch (R-ID), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

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