Western Senators Urge Trump, Senate Leaders to Prioritize Wildfire Disaster Response in Next Aid Package

Western Senators Urge Trump, Senate Leaders to Prioritize Wildfire Disaster Response in Next Aid Package

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today led a group of 10 Western Senators strongly urging President Donald Trump and Senate leaders to include funding for wildfire disaster response in the next disaster aid package.

The letters to the President and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were also signed by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Jon Tester (D-MT).

Following a record-shattering fire season, the Senators wrote, “As we continue to assist Texas, Puerto Rico and other parts of the country recover from damage caused by hurricanes so must we assist in the recovery of western states scorched by wildfire. It is critical to include additional disaster relief funding in the next aid package to help our communities recover and provide the Forest Service with additional resources to repair lands and infrastructure damaged by wildfire and reduce the threat of future wildfires.”

Specifically, the Senators called for $200 million in funding for the Forest Service to restore and repair public lands and infrastructure damaged in this year’s natural disasters. They also called for a $580 million investment in thinning and other forest management to reduce fire-prone fuels and get ahead of future fires before the U.S. faces another devastating fire season. “On Forest Service land alone, 78 million acres are designated as moderate to high risk of severe wildfires,” the Senators noted. “If we do not act quickly to fund the treatment of fire prone areas, the costs to fight and recover from these extreme fires will continue to grow.”

The Senators also called for a long-term fix to the problem of “fire borrowing,” in which the Forest Service must rob funds from other programs—including fire prevention—to pay for the cost of fighting fires in bad fire years.

The full text of the letters follows below.

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Dear President Trump:

This year wildfires have rampaged throughout the West, causing extensive damage from Montana and Idaho to Oregon and California. As we continue to assist Texas, Puerto Rico and other parts of the country recover from damage caused by hurricanes so must we assist in the recovery of western states scorched by wildfire. It is critical to include additional disaster relief funding in the next aid package to help our communities recover and provide the Forest Service with additional resources to repair lands and infrastructure damaged by wildfire and reduce the threat of future wildfires.

First, we must include $200 million in emergency funding to repair and replace public lands and infrastructure damaged by wildfire and hurricanes. Without this additional funding, the Forest Service will be forced to postpone or cancel projects in FY18 to accommodate the recovery effort. This jeopardizes essential work like the removal of hazardous trees for public safety, road and trail maintenance, restoring vegetation in watersheds, and rehabilitating wildlife and fish habitat. Failing to adequately fund recovery now will only lead to more fire disasters in the future.

Second, we must seize the moment and include $580 million in emergency funding to get ahead of future fires. Investing in vital forest thinning and hazardous fuels reduction projects now will make our forests more resilient to catastrophic wildfire in the future. On Forest Service land alone, 78 million acres are designated as moderate to high risk of severe wildfires. If we do not act quickly to fund the treatment of fire prone areas, the costs to fight and recover from these extreme fires will continue to grow.

Finally, as you are already aware, it is critical that we repay any transferred funds to cover the cost of suppression and enact a permanent fix to the problem of fire-borrowing. We cannot provide disaster relief to other parts of the country without assisting the western states scorched by fire as well.

Sincerely,

 

 

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

This year wildfires have rampaged throughout the West, causing extensive damage from Montana and Idaho to Oregon and California. As we continue to assist Texas, Puerto Rico and other parts of the country recover from damage caused by hurricanes so must we assist in the recovery of western states scorched by wildfire. It is critical to include additional disaster relief funding in the next aid package to help our communities recover and provide the Forest Service with additional resources to repair lands and infrastructure damaged by wildfire and reduce the threat of future wildfires.

First, we need to ensure the communities that have been directly and indirectly impacted by wildfire have access to programs to help their communities and economies recover. Programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD are critical to this recovery effort. However, a number of these programs are not nimble enough to help communities who endure hyper-localized damages. It is critical that appropriate adjustments are made to ensure these communities receive the help they deserve.

Second, we must include $200 million in emergency funding to repair and replace public lands and infrastructure damaged by wildfire and hurricanes. Without this additional funding, the Forest Service will be forced to postpone or cancel projects in FY18 to accommodate the recovery effort. This jeopardizes essential work like the removal of hazardous trees for public safety, road and trail maintenance, restoring vegetation in watersheds, and rehabilitating wildlife and fish habitat. Failing to adequately fund recovery now will only lead to more fire disasters in the future.

Third, we must seize the moment and invest $580 million to make our forests more resilient to catastrophic wildfire by investing in vital forest thinning and hazardous fuels reduction projects. On Forest Service land alone, 78 million acres are designated as moderate to high risk of severe fire. If we do not act quickly to fund the treatment of fire prone areas, the costs to fight and recover from these extreme fires will continue to grow.

Finally, as you are already aware, it is critical that we repay any transferred funds to cover the cost of suppression and enact a permanent fix to the problem of fire-borrowing. We cannot provide disaster relief to other parts of the country without assisting the western states scorched by fire as well.

Sincerely,