February 24, 2014

Wyden, Crapo Applaud White House Endorsement of Wyden-Crapo Federal Wildfire Policy Reform Plan

Washington, D.C. – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, applauded the news that President Obama will endorse their plan to reform federal wildfire policy by funding major wildfires the same way as other natural disasters, while freeing up funding to prevent future fires. 

“The largest wildfires are natural disasters, no different from tornadoes or earthquakes,” Wyden said. “For too long, Oregon forests have suffered from a failure to invest in fire prevention work that can create healthier stands and protect rural communities from catastrophic infernos. This plan finally puts federal policy on the right track.”

"The Administration can be a strong ally in building support for our legislation to treat the most devastating of wildfires as the disasters that they are," Crapo said.  "We can protect both firefighting and restoration efforts and provide more certainty for land planners and job creators alike in improving our public lands once this legislation is made law."

President Obama announced on Monday that he plans to incorporate a bill (S. 1875) by Wyden, Crapo and Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and James Risch, R-Idaho, as part of his 2015 budget proposal. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., are sponsoring the House companion bill. 

Currently agencies base wildland fire suppression budgets on the average costs of the past 10 years. That approach has underestimated the actual costs 8 of the past 10 years, and forced the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department to take money from other important programs to make up the difference.

This measure treats the largest fires – roughly 1 percent of annual fires – as natural disasters, and funds firefighting efforts from the same disaster account that funds hurricane and other natural disaster relief efforts. The Forest Service estimates 1 percent of fires consume 30 percent of firefighting budgets, and thus should be treated as true natural disasters.

Removing those megafires from the regular budget could free up to $412 million for land management agencies to fund fire prevention