DeFazio Secures Wildfire Funding Fix, Secure Rural Schools Payments in Omnibus Spending Bill
Rep. Peter DeFazio today applauded the inclusion of a fix for wildfire prevention funding and funding for the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program in the FY2018 Omnibus spending bill.
Rep. DeFazio has fought for a fix to end the cycle of fire-borrowing throughout his time in Congress and fought for increased funding to fight wildfires, improve forest health and sustain rural communities.
“After decades of fires and millions of acres destroyed, I’m encouraged that the idiotic cycle of fire-borrowing is finally ending,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, (D-OR). “Thanks to this fix, the USFS will be able to focus on efforts to reduce the risk of wildfires through fire mitigation practices and better forest management that will help protect Southwest Oregon from massive wildfires, instead of leaving the agency—and the forests—in crisis every fire season.”
Due to the increasing frequency and intensity of forest fires, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has repeatedly exhausted its funding for fire suppression before the fire season ends in recent years. In order to fund its fire suppression costs for the entire season, the USFS has been forced to borrow money from its fire prevention and forest management budget, a destructive cycle known as ‘fire-borrowing’.
The Omnibus spending bill includes a fix for fire-borrowing that would allow for wildfires to be considered the same as other natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes. This distinction would allow USFS to access funding from disaster relief funds to help suppress fires once their fire suppression account is exhausted, preserving the USFS’s fire prevention, forest management, and other programs’ budgets for their intended purposes.
The spending bill also includes funding for the SRS program for two years. The SRS program, which expired in 2015, provides assistance to rural counties affected by the decline in revenue from timber harvests on federal lands. These funds are primarily spent on schools, roads, and law enforcement.
“Re-establishing the SRS program provides much-needed relief for Southwest Oregon’s communities,” added Rep. DeFazio. “Now, Congress needs to focus on a comprehensive forest management plan that will give communities economic certainty for the future while protecting our natural resources.”
The spending bill, which was released yesterday, will fund the federal government through September 30, 2018. The House is expected to vote on the bill today. To avoid a government shutdown, both houses must pass the omnibus legislation before midnight Friday when current funding runs out.