WASHINGTON - Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., emphasized the costs of congressional inaction when it comes to fixing the broken system of wildfire funding, during a hearing Thursday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Wyden, together with Sens. Mike Crapo and James Risch, both R-Idaho, has been working on a long-term solution since 2013 to fix the way the federal government funds wildfire suppression, in order to free up more funding for fire prevention and other forest management work in Oregon’s forests and across the country.
Wyden asked U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell what the costs of inaction on a long-term wildfire budgeting fix have been on forest management and wildfire over the last four years.
“This is a broken, common-sense-defying system of fighting fire, where you borrow from prevention to put the fires out and the problem just gets worse. This is not some abstract thing,” Wyden said. “The costs of inaction are extraordinary. The bottom line is the Congress cannot let another fire year go by, with lives and communities at stake, without fixing wildfire budgeting for good.”
Tidwell told Wyden the cost of not having a long-term wildfire budget solution has prevented the Forest Service from managing millions of forest acres. The lack of forest management has exacerbated the severity and size of wildfires, the senator said, as the agency is forced to fund fire suppression by borrowing funds from forest management programs.
“If you look at it over four years and you look at just the growth of the 10-year average, we could have easily been treating millions of more acres over the last four years," Tidwell said. "We have the science, we have the experience and we have study after study that shows that our projects are effective to reduce the cost of wildfires."
“There are independent studies that show that this work makes a difference and that we can reduce the size of wildfires by anywhere from 30 – 70 percent, and on average, 41 percent, by getting out there and doing the work,” the Forest Service chief added.
Wyden said he and Crapo are continuing to work toward a wildfire funding solution to bring down the cost of wildfire fighting by focusing on prevention and other forest management work.