We always hesitate to write about proposed legislation because it seems that about 90 percent of it never sees the light of day. And, at Wildfire Today we don’t cover politics unless it directly affects wildland fire. So with those disclaimers, here is information about two efforts that would affect federal fire management.
Two Arizona Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, filed an amendment yesterday to the Senate Budget Resolution that they claim would “require Congress to fully fund the U.S. Forest Service’s cash-strapped wildfire management account”. This is an attempt to partially solve the “fire borrowing” problem which is a ridiculous situation requiring land management agencies, in a busy fire year, to take money from non-fire programs to pay for fire suppression.
The amendment would only allow any funding for the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior if the budget included a fix for fire borrowing, a concept with some support. But it also requires the use of the 10-year average fire cost to determine the fire budget in perpetuity, and it can’t provide more than an additional $1.4 billion in a busy fire year. The latter idea is controversial and could be divisive, so it is unlikely that the party leadership or the majority of the Senate would buy off on it.
For the last two years, and especially the last two months, Senator McCain has actually lived up to his self-described “maverick” status, often breaking ranks with his party and openly criticising (or returning fire from) the President, who is also a member of his party. There is a theory that this proposed amendment is unserious, and is simply an attempt to ruffle some Republican feathers.
The other proposed legislation has some limited bipartisan support, four Democrats and two Republicans, and may have a better chance of passage. It was introduced today by Senators Cantwell, Murray, Risch, Wyden, Crapo, and Merkley. They are affectionately calling it the “pine pilot” bill.
Their Wildland Fires Act of 2017:
- Establishes a pilot program for ponderosa pine forests that directs the FS and DOI to treat the top 1% most-at-risk, least-controversial lands over the next 10 years by reducing wildfire risk in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) and conducting prescribed fires outside of the WUI;
- Authorizes the use of 10-year contracts for prescribed fire companies and of up to ten 20-year contracts for restoration projects or fuels reduction projects on Federal land;
- Requires a cost review of every wildfire over 100,000 acres;
- Authorizes the Secretaries to re-purpose unused wildfire suppression funds to conduct wildfire risk reduction projects; and,
- Provides funding to communities that are at-risk to wildfires for planning and preparing for wildfires.