Congress is taking another stab at fixing how to pay for forest fires.
After failing last year to pass a measure allowing the U.S. Forest Service to fund wildfire defense the same way the federal government pays for other natural disasters, U.S. Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, have introduced a new version of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act.
The move would end the Forest Service’s practice of “fire borrowing,” in which it diverts annual budget money from regular activities to pay for firefighting.
In 2012, the agency spent 47 percent of its budget on fire suppression.
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H.R. 167 is virtually identical to the bill introduced in the previous session of Congress. That bill had 150 co-sponsors and support from more than 300 organizations, according to Simpson.
The bill would leave routine wildland firefighting costs in the Forest Service annual budget. But it would put disaster fires, which account for 1 percent of the incidents but 30 percent of the cost, into a separate account that can be repaid in subsequent budget allocations.
“The way we currently budget for fire is costing taxpayers and destroying our forests,” Simpson wrote in a statement about the bill. “Passing this legislation will have a significant and long-term impact on both our public lands and on our budget, allowing us to finally budget responsibly for wildfire suppression in a way that ultimately decreases firefighting costs by mitigating fire risk and making us better prepared for and more resilient against future fires."
Letters of support for the proposal have already been filed by the American Forest Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, National Parks Conservation Association, National Association of State Foresters and the Wilderness Society, among others.