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Stalled bipartisan bill could fix the West’s wildfire funding crisis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SEPTEMBER 2, 2015

As the American West Burns…

Analysis Reveals Stalled Wildfire Funding Bill Has Greatest Bipartisan Support

DENVER—A new analysis released by the Center for Western Priorities finds that the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, currently stalled in Congress, has broader and more bipartisan support than any natural resources bill currently before the House of Representatives.

As fires rage across the West and as the Forest Service prepares to once again poach from its own stewardship budget to protect communities from wildfire, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R. 167) provides a simple, budget-neutral fix to help ensure the Forest Service has the resources to carry out its broad mission.

In Friendly Fire: Overwhelming Bipartisan Support For Stalled Wildfire Funding Solution, CWP determines that 125 members of Congress have cosponsored the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, of whom 56 percent are Democrats and 44 percent Republicans, making it the most widely supported and bipartisan piece of natural resources legislation.

“A bill with such sweeping bipartisan support is extremely unusual in today’s hyper-partisan political environment,” said Greg Zimmerman, Policy Director at CWP. “Congress has no excuse for dithering. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act should receive a vote as soon as Congress returns from recess.”

To assess the bipartisanship of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act relative to other pieces of legislation, CWP analyzed the ratio of Republican to Democratic support and the number of cosponsors on the legislation for all 339 bills introduced and referred to the House Natural Resources Committee so far in the 114th Congress:

house-natres-bills-scatterplot

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would treat the largest and most expensive fires as the natural disasters they are and give the Forest Service access to emergency disaster funding. Under current law, when the costs of fighting wildfire exceed what the Forest Service has budgeted for, the agency is forced to transfer funds from other critical programs. The result is that important projects—such as watershed restoration, outdoor recreation, and forest health—are delayed or canceled all together. 

2015 will be the eighth time since 2002 that the Forest Service has transferred hundreds of millions of dollars away from core programs to fight wildfire. And the problem is expected to worsen in the coming decades with longer fire seasons, hotter summers, and more people living in forested and fire-prone areas.

“The Forest Service is at its best when it has the capacity and the tools to work hand-in-hand with Western communities to improve watershed health, restore forests, and enhance recreational opportunities,” said Jessica Goad, Advocacy Director at CWP. “But for far too long the Forest Service has been hamstrung by the unsustainable practice of having to rob Peter to pay Paul when it comes to funding wildfire. Now, Congress has a simple, commonsense fix in front of them, and it’s time to act.”

CWP’s analysis is available for download at westernpriorities.org. Greg Zimmerman and Jessica Goad are available for video and audio interviews. To arrange an interview, or for more information, call Media Director Aaron Weiss at 720-279-0019.

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