SHIFTING TO DISASTER CATEGORY
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FIRE FUNDS 2-26-14 LMS

The recently passed Farm Bill included funds, to be administered by the US Department of Agriculture, targeted to forest management activities such as forest fuel reduction programs. In a February 26 interview Idaho Senator Mike Crapo explained another piece of legislation, this one aimed at costs of the west’s catastrophic forest fire events.

Crapo said the Fire Bill he originally introduced along with Idaho Representative Simpson, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Oregon Representative Kurt Schrader would shift firefighting equipment and manpower costs to federal disaster fund accounts. Crapo said the difference between the two funding programs is, one is for planned management of the public lands and the other is for the cost of resources used in fighting fires.

Crapo said funds in the Farm Bill are to help facilitate land management planning and restoration. He said, “We also plan for forest fires but we don’t fund them adequately so we end up robbing the funds from the other accounts that should be used for management and restoration and using them for forest fire fighting purposes.” He said the Fire Bill legislation spells out that once monies allocated for firefighting in agency budgets are expended, costs would be shifted to emergency disaster funding, “…and we don’t have to have the agency basically see all of their other funds terminated while we wait for Congress to refill those coffers after the forest fires are over.” In most cases the funds depleted include the ones intended for fuel reduction programs meant to reduce the potential for catastrophic fires.

The administration has since announced plans to include a change in the 2015 budget outline as to how the fighting of wildfires on public lands will be funded. Crapo said, “The Administration’s support will be key in getting votes to pass this legislation to treat the most devastating of wildfires as the disasters that they are,\\\" He said, \\\"We can protect both firefighting and restoration efforts and provide more certainty for land planners and job creators alike in improving our public lands once this legislation is made law.\\\"

In his reaction to the administration’s announcement co-sponsor Representative Simpson stated, “I’m pleased to see the Administration has chosen the approach we took in our legislation. Our bill treats catastrophic wildfires like similar major natural disasters—such as floods and hurricanes—and ensures that money intended for managing public lands, reducing fuel loads, and improving forest health is actually used for that purpose. Changing the way we budget for fire will allow us to continue to fight fires without crippling our ability to prevent future fires from burning out of control.”

As to a time frame of when the legislation might be approved, that is an unknown. Crapo said, “We almost had it considered in this last budget discussion but there were some concerns raised by some who wanted to study it further and so forth so, we unfortunately missed an opportunity just a month or so ago. But, that being said, now we will be moving into the normal budgeting and appropriating process in the congress and as a result of the budget deal that did pass we hope that we will be able to actually start working in regular order here in congress, rather than the way congress has lurched along in the past few years with Omnibus Appropriations bills. And, it would most likely be in that process where we would try to get this included. It doesn’t have to be included in the appropriations process but that’s where I believe the next opportunity will arise.”

Crapo is hoping that opportunity will come within the next few months.










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