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Hot Shots


According to a 2013 Forest Service study, wildfires in the western states are expected to double by 2050. In part because of drier winters (like this one; yes, global warming is real!) and in part because homes are being built closer to wildland areas.

Yes, that is bad news. Particularly bad news in terms of what funding is currently available to fight and prevent forest fires.

In the '90s, the average annual cost for fire fighting and prevention was almost $1 billion. Since 2002, that number has swelled to $3 billion.

But even more than the soaring costs, the mechanism to provide these funds to the U.S. Forest Service, and Departments of Interior and Agriculture is shortsighted—and not sustainable.

Here's the issue: The current budget setup for federal agencies fighting fires is Peter robbing Paul: As the expense to fight bigger and more fires has increased, federal agencies, with increasing frequency, have been pulling funds from fire prevention accounts. Yes, that is a problem, and a problem that only begets more problems. For example, the accounts being drawn down are the same ones that fund fire prevention work, like clearing brush. Such practices are obviously shortsighted and counter productive, and only add fuel to the fire (so to speak).

But, a solution is blazing forward. (Ouch, sorry, bad pun.) Over the horizon, wearing his 10 -gallon white hat, Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore., chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee), along with Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, are carrying forward a bill that, if approved by Congress, would dramatically improve funding for wildland fire fighting by shifting the funding source to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agency that manages other natural disasters—like hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and floods—and does so with much fewer restrictions and with access to deeper federal pockets. And, most keenly, would do so without pulling fire fighting funds from fire prevention funds.

Introduced in mid-December, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act has received broad bipartisan support. In late February, President Obama hopped on the bandwagon and introduced the smart and surprisingly simple idea to his 2015 budget.

On Monday, the president met in Washington with the Western Governors' Association (WGA) to better describe how this bill and others like it will help counterbalance the effects of climate change—and will create more financial stability and sense. Just as many others have already done—from environmentalists, to timber businessmen, to recreationalists—the WGA has announced its support for the bill.

"This is about as common-sense as it gets: Congress needs to fund the biggest, most catastrophic wildfires like the natural disasters they are, and free up funding to break the destructive cycle that underfunds fire prevention and shorts fire management," Wyden said in a statement. "This bill ends that cycle, puts money back into prevention, and provides the resources agencies need to effectively protect rural communities and forests."

Our Glass Slipper goes to Sen. Wyden and Sen. Crapo for their efforts to correct this funding problem and, in the process, helping provide a reasonable and sustainable solution for the upcoming decades.

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