Lawmakers praise funding fix for fighting fires

Lawmakers praise funding fix for fighting fires

Oregon lawmakers say they've fixed a flaw that forced the U.S. Forest Service to break its budget to pay for firefighting efforts.

When the Eagle Creek Wildfire raged through the Columbia River Gorge last year, the Forest Service couldn't tap into federal disaster relief funds made available for other types of emergencies, like floods, hurricanes or earthquakes.

Instead, they had to divert the money from other programs already funded within the federal agency, namely habitat restoration and protection.

The practice — known as fire borrowing — has for years been viewed as a major bugaboo by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon.

"Common sense has finally prevailed when it comes to how the Forest Service pays to fight record-breaking forest fires that devastate homes and communities in Oregon and the West," Wyden said in a statement provided to The Outlook.

"This long-overdue, bipartisan solution to the madness of 'fire borrowing' will at last treat these infernos like the natural disasters they are," he continued.

The legislation passed with a bicameral effort involving several Republicans from Oregon and Idaho, including Rep. Greg Walden, who represents Oregon's rural 2nd District.

"Importantly, this legislation fixes the way we pay to fight wildfires," Walden said. "Rather than requiring the Forest Service and BLM to rob the accounts used for forest management and fire prevention, we provide funds that will be used specifically for fire fighting. This will help end the vicious cycle of depleting resources for fire prevention to pay for fire suppression, which increases the risk of catastrophic wildfires year after year."

Wyden and Walden were joined in support of the legislation by Oregon Democrats Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Kurt Schrader.

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