Editor’s note: Senator Jeff Merkley has been watching the scorching of the Western third of the country by wildfires. There simply isn’t enough equipment or manpower to keep up with them either in fighting the fires or in working to prevent them in the first place. Senator Merkley’s call for change couldn’t come at a more obvious moment.
Washington, D.C. — Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley released the following statement after reports that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is now implementing fire borrowing — the practice of halting other programs, including fire prevention efforts — to free up funds to combat the record-setting wildfires that are blazing across the Northwest:
“There’s a slow-motion hollowing out of the Forest Service as the result of our backwards approach to funding efforts to fight inevitable wildfires. This year, for the first time in history, more than half of the Forest Service’s budget has been set aside to address wildfires. Unless Congress acts, Americans will continue gradually losing the benefits of our forests – fewer available campgrounds, erosion polluting our streams and rivers, lost jobs as timber projects stall, and most ironic and worrysome, more frequent and more severe wildfires as we loot fire prevention to pay for the fires burning right now. There’s a common-sense fix with bipartisan support, and I am going to be pushing hard to see it signed into law this year. It’s time to fund huge wildfires like the natural disasters they are, and stop fueling the vicious cycle of cutting fire prevention and everything else to pay for the fires that are already burning.”
According to today’s reports, the USFS will cut up to $20 million from the National Forest System, $30 million from the State and Private Forestry organization, $12 million from land acquisition under the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and $5 million from capital improvement and maintenance projects. Additionally, the agency is preparing to cut up to $200 million from other programs, including hazardous fuels reductions, which helps prevent fires from spreading quickly and growing out of control.
Earlier this year, Senator Merkley led the effort in the Senate Appropriations Committee to pass a version of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, bipartisan wildfire funding legislation developed by Sens. Wyden and Crapo.