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Congress Studies New Way To Fund Massive Wildfires

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell discusses the wildfire forecast at a news briefing in Boise. She's flanked by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (left) and Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. (Right, L-R).
Aaron Kunz
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Interior Secretary Sally Jewell discusses the wildfire forecast at a news briefing in Boise. She's flanked by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (left) and Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. (Right, L-R).

BOISE, Idaho -- A coalition of Congressional Democrats and Republicans gathered in Boise today [Monday] to tout a proposal that would change the way the federal government pays for firefighting operations in the West and beyond.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell joined all four federal senators from Oregon and Idaho, an Idaho congressman, as well as Idaho’s governor at the National Interagency Fire Center.

Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, co-sponsored the legislation that would have the federal government pay for the nation’s most extreme wildfires out of the same fund it uses to deal with hurricanes and tornadoes.

Jewell says in recent years, the U.S. has dealt with more catastrophic fires that have exhausted the Forest Service’s normal suppression budgets.

“These are extraordinary fires,” Jewell says. “They are emergencies and they shouldn’t be in the regular budget where we have to rob other parts of the budget to do the job. So it’s just great that the Senate, the House and the administration are working together on this.”

When the Forest Service’s fire suppression budget is gone, other portions of the agency’s budget get raided. That has interrupted funding for fire prevention programs. Supporters of the overhaul say it’s created a cycle that leads to even more big and expensive fires.

Crapo says he’s optimistic the proposal will win approval in Washington, though he’s not sure it will happen before this year’s wildfire season.

This was first reported for Boise State Public Radio

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Scott Graf