Study: Human-caused warming burns more Western forests

In this June 30, 2016 photo, a wildfire fire burns near Table Rock in Boise, Idaho. A new study on Western forest fires confirms what is already apparent — wildfire seasons are getting longer and more destructive.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — An Idaho Republican congressman and an Oregon Democrat have teamed up to re-introduce a bill to fund wildfire suppression the same way as natural disasters.

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, whose district includes the Magic Valley, and U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., introduced the “Wildfire Disaster Funding Act” Thursday. This would allow, when the money Congress allocates to fight wildfires for the year runs out, for fire suppression to be funded the same way as natural disasters like floods or hurricanes. Currently, the money is taken from other areas of a land management agency’s budget, thus reducing the amount the agency has for other activities.

Supporters of Simpson and Schrader’s proposed fix say “fire borrowing,” as it is caused, actually contributes to making fires worse by reducing the amount agencies have for other activities such as fuels reduction that could help to mitigate fires. Simpson and Schrader said in a news release the U.S. Forest Service has gone from spending 16 percent of its budget on wildfires to 56 percent last year, a number that will likely continue to increase if nothing changes.

Western lawmakers, including the rest of Idaho’s delegation, have been pushing for a similar change for years, and it has bipartisan support among regional lawmakers. The bill has so far stalled in Congress every time, most recently last December.

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“I have seen the cost of wildfires in Idaho and the impacts it has on our forests when funds that are planned for forest management are used to fight wildfires,” Simpson said in a statement. “When more than 50 percent of an agency’s budget is unpredictable, you are creating a recipe for the unsustainable fire-borrowing we see today that devastates our forests and costs taxpayers. I am pleased to reintroduce the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act with Congressman Schrader again this Congress. It is time to acknowledge that catastrophic wildfires should be funded like natural disasters so we can ensure that land managers have the resources they need to properly manage our forests.”

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