Wyden, Crapo: Keep Wildfire Funding Fix Central Part of Wildfire Budgeting Debate
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho today issued the following joint statement during a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a draft wildfire funding bill:
As prepared for delivery
“The issue of fixing fire borrowing has been a bipartisan issue for as long as we all have been working on it. And so, before I ask my questions, I want to give a little perspective on behalf of Senator Crapo and myself.
When Senator Crapo and I started on this journey some thought fire borrowing was a western problem looking for western solutions. It’s now known, however, that shortchanging the Forest Service budget is a national problem. Fire borrowing has the attention of our colleagues from New York to Wisconsin – both states with forest lands – because even if they don’t suffer from the catastrophic fires in the West, fire borrowing robs timber projects, restoration logging, recreation and other forest projects in states across the country. All other forest work nationwide gets put on hold every time there is a significant fire season in the West. And the wildfires are not getting any better, in fact, they’re getting bigger, they’re lasting longer, and they’re costing more each year.
Senator Crapo and I want to emphasize the importance of this hearing and the wildfire funding discussion draft being reviewed today as steps toward fixing the way the federal government funds wildland firefighting. This broken and dysfunctional system has tied the hands of the agencies for many years.
Senator Crapo and I first introduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act in 2013, and since that time we have worked with a great number of our colleagues, including many on this committee, on a path forward. It is now practically common knowledge that wildfires eat up a significant amount of the Forest Service budget – 52 percent, in fact.
At the same time, Senator Crapo and I are well aware of our colleagues’ desire both in this committee and in the House of Representatives to discuss wildfire funding reforms only if coupled with broader forestry reforms. However, Senator Crapo and I want to ensure that the wildfire funding piece, the piece that has broad, bipartisan support, does not get lost in this discussion.
And let me be clear: fixing forest fire budgeting will allow the Forest Service to do more of the work in the woods that it is already authorized to do.
Last year, right before the Senate adjourned for the summer, Senator Crapo and I worked with nine of our colleagues and filed a colloquy with 11 other senators pledging to work together to address this serious problem. I submit the colloquy for the record for this hearing.
In a body like the U.S. Senate that would have trouble agreeing on ordering a soda, getting eleven U.S. Senators to commit on the record to work together is no small matter. Many of our colleagues here today took part in that colloquy, and I thank them for their dedication to this issue.
I also thank the Chair and Ranking Member for sticking to that commitment. Because the Congress simply cannot let another summer go by without fixing this growing problem. Senator Crapo and I applaud the release of the discussion draft and we support the intent to finally address wildfire funding and move forward on a solution.
We have a ways to go, however. There must be a concerted effort to control the continued erosion of the Forest Service budget that is needed to fight fires. If the 10-year average cost of fighting fires isn’t contained, like the fires themselves, it will continue to rage out of control.
Senator Crapo and I appreciate the input from all of the witnesses today, and all of the groups that wrote to the committee with their comments on the discussion draft. We are looking forward to continuing these conversations and making meaningful progress this year. Senator Crapo and I offer our staff and our office space to help coordinate and host weekly meetings on this issue with the hope that we can find a solution to this growing problem this year.
The Congress cannot in good conscience let another fire year go by, with lives and property at stake, without fixing this once and for all.”
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