Merkley, Wyden Press For Additional Firefighting Funds for Oregon –
Urge Senate to Supply Emergency Funds and Revamp Broken Fire Prevention, Management System
As wildfires spanning nearly 600,000 acres burn across Oregon – with lightning storms predicted for the next 48 hours – Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden led 10 other senators Tuesday in sending a letter to Senate leaders calling for swift passage of President Obama’s emergency supplemental funding request, which would allocate $615 million – accessible immediately – to fight wildfires. The Senators also called for a vote on the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, a bill sponsored by Wyden and Merkley that would fix the broken system of stealing funds from fire prevention programs to fight fires that are already burning.
With persistent droughts, dry forests and new fires starting daily, the West has experienced an especially harsh fire season. Currently there are active fires burning in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and California. Both Oregon and Washington have declared states of emergency. The administration already estimates that this year’s funding for firefighting will fall far short of the costs.
“We cannot afford to wait another year to fix this urgent problem,” the Senators wrote in the letter. “We urge you to take up the President’s emergency funding request to deal with wildfire funding once and for all.”
The emergency supplemental funding request would grant $615 million, which would be immediately accessible for firefighting efforts in western states through the end of the year.
The cost of fighting wildfires has regularly exceeded the amount appropriated by Congress in past years. To cover this need for additional funds, money must be redirected from mitigation and prevention efforts.
To ensure that fires are treated like other natural disasters and ensure that both firefighting and prevention efforts are adequately funded, the Senators urged passage of Wyden and Merkley’s bipartisan Wildlife Disaster Funding Act, which would create a long-term solution for wildfire budgets.