April 24, 2018

Wyden to Forest Service: Use Wildfire Funding Fix to Get Back to Work in the Woods

Washington, D.C. – In a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., pressed the interim chief of the U.S. Forest Service to explain how the agency will use a recently passed wildfire funding solution to restart wildfire prevention projects in Oregon that have been shown to reduce the size and severity of devastating wildfires across the West.

Last month, Congress passed the bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, legislation written and first introduced by Wyden and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, in 2013. The new law stops the current damaging budget practice called “fire borrowing,” which for years has forced the Forest Service to raid fire prevention and other forest health funding accounts to pay to put out increasingly large and expensive fires.

“Our bipartisan wildfire funding solution is great news for Oregon and communities throughout the West because of what it should lead to: certainty for Forest Service funding that will liberate funds for much-needed wildfire prevention,” Wyden said. “But it is not a blank check. Now that Congress has passed the bipartisan fire funding fix I worked with Sen. Crapo for years to pass into law, the Forest Service needs to get back to work in the woods and start getting ahead of these infernos that are threatening our communities.”

By allowing the Forest Service to use emergency funding to put out wildfires once fire suppression costs exceed the budgeted amount, the law will allow fire prevention funding to once again be used for actual fire prevention work.

That means the Forest Service must begin planning how it will restart many of the fire prevention projects that were put on hold during years of budget uncertainty at the agency.

The interim Forest Service chief, Vicki Christiansen, agreed to provide Wyden and the committee with a plan for how the agency will address the current backlog of hazardous fuel reduction projects and other fire prevention work within six weeks.

Video of Wyden's questions to Christiansen is here.