Wyden: West can wait no longer for wildfire funding fix

WASHINGTON - After visiting wildfire operation centers and fire camps from Oregon’s northern border to its southern border last weekend, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., stressed to his colleagues Wednesday on the Senate floor that Western states cannot accept any further delay for a wildfire funding fix.  


“The bottom line is the West cannot wait any longer for Congress to send them some help and repair -- for the long-term --  this broken system that shortchanges prevention and adds fuel to these raging wildfires,” Wyden said in his floor speech. “I met with the courageous men and women who are working to exhaustion to fight these fires. They’re doing their part. It’s time for the Congress to do ours.”


Over the weekend, Wyden met with emergency service responders on the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia Gorge, the Chetco Bar Fire in southwestern Oregon, the Jones Fire in Lane County and the Miller Complex Fire in Jackson County.  


Wildfires across Oregon are burning more than 500,000 acres currently, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Oregon’s largest fire right now, the Chetco Bar fire, grew to more than 185,000 acres today. And at more than 35,000 acres, the Eagle Creek Fire has scorched the landscape of Oregon’s iconic Columbia River Gorge.


Last week, Wyden, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and 10 other Democratic and Republican senators urged Senate Leaders Mitch McConnell and Charles E. Schumer to include a wildfire funding fix in any future disaster aid legislation that passes through Congress.


Wyden also pressed Trump last week to include a wildfire funding fix in any request he sends to Congress for disaster aid.


Wyden and Crapo first introduced their bipartisan wildfire funding fix, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, in 2013. Another wildfire funding fix was included in July in legislation under consideration by the Senate Banking Committee to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program.


Both approaches would end the practice of fire borrowing by funding the largest wildfires from disaster accounts similar to accounts used to fund other natural disasters, freeing up funding for fire prevention and forest health projects. 


In an August letter to the leaders of the Senate Banking Committee, Wyden and Sens. James Risch, R-Idaho, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., urged the Senate to pass the wildfire funding fix under consideration by the Senate Banking Committee.

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