Federal and state wildfire reform is still alive


There is renewed promise for federal legislation that would end the practice of “fire borrowing,” and editorial boards are calling for wildfire reform in Washington State as well.

We wrote a few months ago about the last-minute death of a U.S. bill that would have ended the Forest Service’s practice of raiding other parts of its budget to pay for firefighting. Now a bipartisan group of senators have introduced the Wildfire Budgeting, Response and Forest Management Act, another piece of legislation that would end fire borrowing.

The Seattle Times and Vancouver Columbian both recently expressed support an end to fire borrowing.

The Times:

(Washington Gov. Jay) Inslee and (State Commissioner of Public Lands Peter) Goldmark support a more direct way to deal with wildfires: Treat them in federal accounting the way hurricanes and floods are handled across the country.

They are all disasters that claim lives, destroy private property and put communities in jeopardy. Create the budget structures and cost thresholds used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and others.

This approach has bipartisan support among Washington’s congressional delegation.

Failure to maintain forest health with thinning, and disease and pest control creates fire hazards that can cost vastly more to extinguish. Raiding the forest-health funds to pay for putting out fires only compounds the budgetary madness.

The Columbian last month endorsed an older version of the federal legislation that accomplishes the same goal of changing the way the Forest Service pays for firefighting:

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which has been championed by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., in the Senate and is co-sponsored by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, in the House of Representatives, would alter this approach and is being considered in Congress. It should be viewed as an investment that would save money in the long run.

Both papers also support Peter Goldmark’s call for increased funding to fight wildfires here in Washington State.

The Times:

Lawmakers in Olympia engage in the same shortsighted budgeting. They had to come up with $160 million to pay for 2015 firefighting costs. They only produced $6.7 million of the $24 million Goldmark asked for to prepare for another fire season.

Wildfires in 2015 consumed 1 million acres of forest land, along with 499 structures, 307 primary residences, 21 commercial structures and 171 outbuildings.

The Columbian:

Experts, including state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, say that ignoring wildfires until they endanger human lives or structures would have a devastating ecological impact.

…Goldmark requested $25 million for such programs from lawmakers, who responded by funding $6.7 million of that request.

The essential part is for lawmakers to recognize that the wildfires of recent years represent a new reality. While many people debate whether or not climate change is caused by human activity, there is little room for suggesting that it does not exist and that it is resulting in tinder-dry forests. Those forests are bound to catch fire, and fighting those fires is a cost that must be borne.