June 10, 2015

Wyden: Wasco County Disaster Designation Underscores Need for Fire Funding

Washington, D.C. – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today vowed to keep fighting for wildfire funding after U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack designated Wasco County, Oregon, as a primary natural disaster area and seven nearby Oregon counties as natural disaster counties due to dangerous drought conditions.

The disaster designations come a day after House Republicans proposed a bill that would provide wildfire funds based on the current funding approach, which has underfunded fire suppression costs seven out of the last 10 years, forcing the agencies to take funds from other accounts to fight fires. In 2014, Congress designated $3.9 billion for wildland fire management, including $600 million to pay back accounts the Forest Service was forced to raid to pay for fire suppression the previous year. 

“Given the latest disaster designations in Oregon, it is particularly disappointing the House spending bill for firefighting and other natural resources programs seems to be not based on real-world needs and experiences, but instead on wishful thinking,” Wyden said. “By refusing to fund the largest wildfires as true natural disasters, the House funding bill perpetuates the fire robbery of other important Forest Service programs – including the ones that could prevent fires before they start. Freeing up funds to clear hazardous fuels in the forests is vital to the West, and I’m going to working to make sure Congress budgets for wildfires in a way that makes sense.”

Wyden introduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act in January with Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to fix the system for funding wildfires by freeing up more funding for wildfire prevention efforts, such as hazardous fuels treatments. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act now has 14 bipartisan cosponsors and the support of more than 250 organizations. A similar bill introduced by Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., in the House of Representatives now has 85 cosponsors.

The counties declared contiguous disaster counties by the USDA are Clackamas, Gilliam, Hood River, Jefferson, Marion, Sherman and Wheeler.

Nationwide, the U.S. Forest Service estimates fighting wildfires could cost up to $1.6 billion alone this year as a result of the drought that’s created concerns both for wildfires and agriculture in large parts of Oregon.  

 Wyden is a senior member of the Senate Budget Committee and of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.