This summer’s wildfire season is shaping up to be one of the worst on record. Already in 2015, eight million acres have burned—almost entirely in the American West—and experts are predicting that some fires will not be put out until the first snow falls months from now.
As firefighters with the U.S. Forest Service battle blazes from Alaska to Texas, the agency is again struggling with what has become an annual dilemma: how to pay for the growing costs of fighting wildfire without poaching funds from its other critical programs, including those to restore forests, improve watershed health, and enhance recreation opportunities.
The answer to this quandary comes in the form of a piece of legislation currently stalled in Congress, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R. 167). What distinguishes this bill in today’s hyper-partisan environment is that it enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support. In fact, the Center for Western Priorities’ new analysis shows that the WDFA has more broad, bipartisan support than all other natural resources legislation currently in front of the U.S. House of Representatives.
To come to this conclusion, the Center for Western Priorities analyzed each of the 339 natural resources bills currently in front of the House Natural Resources Committee, and determined that WDFA has more cosponsors and more bipartisan support than any other piece of legislation. Despite this unequivocal bipartisanship, and in spite of the desperate calls from the Forest Service for the fix, this critical piece of legislation remains stalled in Congress.
As Congress dithers, the Forest Service is forced to do more with less and Western communities are suffering the consequences. There is no reason why a bill with such sweeping, bipartisan support should not come up for a vote.