September 22, 2009

Wyden, Merkley Join Effort to Set Aside Money to Fight Major Forest Fires

Washington, D.C - Recognizing the high cost of fighting large-scale forest fires, Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today co-sponsored an effort to set aside millions of dollars to help pay the cost of fire suppression on federal land.

"These large fires are not only devastating to forests, wildlife and property, they are causing havoc with budgets, forcing the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to take money from other programs to pay for wildfire suppression," Wyden said. "A better approach would be to create a long-term reserve fund that is dedicated specifically for emergency wildfire suppression, avoiding the need to go into other pots of money when costs get too high."

"Large catastrophic fires damage communities in and near our public lands, and increasingly damage the Forest Service and BLM budget, taking resources from other vital land management programs, even including fire prevention," Merkley said. "Our amendment will establish a separate contingency fund to make sure we have the dedicated resources necessary to fight these increasingly severe wildfires."

The National Interagency Fire Center lists 65 fires of 100,000 acres or more in the United States since 1997, three of those in Oregon: The 500,000-acre Biscuit Fire in the Siskiyou National Forest in 2002; the 120,000-acre Tool Box Fire in the Fremont National Forest in 2002; and the 117,000-acre South End Complex in the Burns BLM District in 2006.

The proposal would move $834 million from existing wildfire suppression accounts into a new Federal Land Assistance Management and Enhancement Fund (FLAME). Creating a separate fund for fighting large-scale wildfires would limit the need for agencies to take funds away from other programs. It is similar to the FLAME Act introduced by Wyden as a separate bill. Other co-sponsors so far include Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Robert Bennett (R-UT), Mark Udall (D-CO) and Tom Udall (D-NM).