WASHINGTON - Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced Thursday that they have successfully included funding to help cover the cost of fighting the devastating wildfires that are currently burning in Oregon in the disaster and government funding bill expected to pass Congress this week.
The legislation passed the U.S. Senate today with overwhelming bipartisan support, the senators said in a joint news release, which follows:
“Oregon is on fire. This is a frightening time for our communities, and they deserve to know that they will have the resources and support they need to fight these fires all the way through to the end of the season,” said Merkley. “Passing this wildfire funding is a huge step forward, but there’s more to do. We won’t stop fighting until Oregon has all of the resources it needs to confront and recover from this ongoing disaster.”
“When Oregon’s skies are glowing orange at night from wildfires and families are forced to evacuate their homes, our state and the West need money to fight these fires now,” said Wyden. “I am glad the Senate has heeded our call to provide some help for the short-term. I am also pulling out all the stops to fight for our bipartisan, long-term wildfire funding solution that tackles the skyrocketing cost of fighting fires and ends the backwards cycle that shortchanges wildfire prevention every year. These fires are getting hotter, bigger and tougher to fight. Congress needs to step up and treat these infernos like the natural disasters they are.”
Since joining the Senate Appropriations Committee in 2015, Senator Merkley has aggressively pushed for increased funding for fighting wildfires, and worked with Senator Wyden to fix the way that fighting the biggest wildfires is funded. The agreement secured in today’s funding bill will ensure that the Forest Service and other agencies will be able to retroactively cover the remaining costs of fighting fires for the 2017 fire season, which is on track to reach $300 million beyond the previously-set firefighting budget for 2017. Without the guarantee of this funding, agencies would soon have to switch over to “fire borrowing” – the practice of raiding other programs, including hazardous fuels reduction and fire prevention, to fund the cost of wildfire suppression.
Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley have also joined with their western colleagues on both sides of the aisle to push for a long-term fix that would fund the cost of fighting the largest wildfires in the same way that the response to other natural disasters is funded. This would permanently end the practice of fire borrowing, and ensure that the biggest wildfires are appropriately treated similarly to other natural disasters.