Wyden Pushes Forest Service Chief for Wildfire Funding Fix
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked the chief of the Forest Service on Tuesday about the agency’s ongoing support for a bipartisan wildfire funding fix that would free up more funding for the work that prevents the largest, most damaging wildfires.
In a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell called a wildfire funding fix “essential for the American public.” Tidwell also said fixing fire borrowing would give the agency another $237 million for recreation, roads, forest management and reducing hazardous forest fuels.
"This is about raiding the prevention fund in order to fight fire,” Wyden said. “We’ve got to have active management, and we’ve also got to find a way to get this done because this makes a mockery of the Forest Service budget. We’re going to do everything we can through the leadership on both sides of the Capitol to work with you and to get this done.”
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR
Wyden and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, reintroduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act last year. The bill ends the cycle of underfunding fire suppression, which currently forces federal agencies to steal from fire prevention just to put out fires.
Instead, Wyden and Crapo’s bill would end this so-called “fire borrowing” by funding the largest wildfires from a similar disaster account used to fund other natural disasters.
At the end of last year, Wyden brokered an alternative fire funding fix between the House and Senate that did not pass Congress. The administration has included a similar proposal to the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act in its last two budget requests to Congress.
The bill now has 20 other bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate, 145 bipartisan cosponsors in the House of Representatives and has been endorsed by more than 260 groups representing hunters and fishers, timber companies and conservationists.
Wyden also asked Tidwell about the innovative research that led to the recent discovery of dangerous levels of cadmium and arsenic in the air in certain hotspots around Portland. Wyden asked if more funding was needed to continue the research on air pollution in tree moss that found high levels of the toxic heavy metals near glass manufacturing plants in Portland.
“My understanding is that this groundbreaking research using tree moss was highly cost-effective and that without it, this public health concern in my hometown of Portland would have gone undetected by the existing air quality monitoring network,” Wyden said.
Tidwell said the Forest Service is committed to its research and development, including supporting tree moss research and other types of research that could have potentially wide application for detecting risks and finding solutions to protect public health.
Wyden is a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.