Bill would End Fire Borrowing and Fund Wildfires like other Natural Disasters
Washington, DC - Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet cosponsored a bill introduced by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) to overhaul federal wildfire policy to increase funding for fire prevention and treat the largest wildfires like other natural disasters.
This bill ends the cycle of underfunding fire suppression accounts. Under an outdated tradition, federal agencies currently base wildland fire suppression budgets on the average costs of the past 10 years, which nearly always underestimates the actual cost of fighting fires. Unlike the response to other natural disasters, which can draw from an emergency fund, the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior (DOI) are forced to steal money - known as "fire borrowing" - from other important programs to make up the difference.
"Colorado and other western states continue to face year after year of catastrophic wildfires that threaten people and property and are busting our budgets. We need to restructure the way we pay for fighting and mitigating wildfires," Bennet said. "This bill will ensure that these disasters receive adequate funding to end the damaging practice of ‘fire borrowing' that results in taking critical funding away from fire prevention efforts."
DOI and the U.S. Forest Service estimate that 1 percent of fires consume 30 percent of firefighting budgets, and thus should be treated as true natural disasters. This bill would fund those catastrophic fires as natural disasters by making any fire suppression spending above 70 percent of the 10-year average for fire suppression eligible to be funded under a separate disaster account.
Budgeting those mega fires as disasters could free up substantial new funding for fire prevention and hazardous fuels reduction projects that can help break the cycle of increasingly dangerous and costly fires.
In 2013, Bennet chaired a hearing in the Senate Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources to bring attention to shrinking budgets for mitigation efforts. He has worked tirelessly to attract critical federal resources to help combat wildfires and mitigate their effects, calling for the modernization of our air tanker fleet to fight wildfires. Bennet has led efforts to secure Emergency Watershed Protection resources to help Colorado communities recover from previous catastrophic fires, and authored key forest health and wildfire prevention provisions in the Senate Farm Bill. He also authored the PREPARE Wildfires Act to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to establish a funding stream specifically for wildfire mitigation and introduced a bill to award competitive grants to states for priority wildfire mitigation and preparedness projects on federal, state, and private lands.
The legislation is also cosponsored by Colorado Senator Corey Gardner and Senators James Risch (R-ID), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).
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