House wants to fund fighting wildland fires without borrowing Forest Service funding

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The House of Representatives passed “The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017” on Nov. 1. The legislation (H.R. 2936) has moved to the Senate for review.

While it addresses many national forest management issues, such as environmental reviews and litigation, funding for fighting wildfires is the issue, which affects Hill communities.

After its passage, Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) who introduced the bill, said in a press release, “… We must end the practice of fire borrowing and treat wildfires as the natural disasters they are, funding recovery efforts through FEMA. We must do what is right for our environment and stop these catastrophic wildfires …”

This legislation, if passed, would allow the president to declare major wildfires a natural disaster under the Stafford Act, making emergency funding available for suppression and prevent “borrowing” funds from non-suppression accounts.

However, the White House is not fully supportive of the bill. In a letter to Congress, the Office of Management and Budget wrote, “The Administration strongly believes that funding for wildland fire management must be addressed in order to enable the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to better manage the Nation’s forests and other public lands.

“The Administration, however, has concerns with re-purposing the Stafford Act to address wildfires. The purpose of the Stafford Act is to assist State, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) governments that become overwhelmed when responding to and recovering from natural disasters affecting their jurisdictions. H.R. 2936 would modify the Stafford Act by creating a new type of disaster declaration to address the cost of wildfire suppression on Federal land, thereby changing long-standing principles governing Federal support to SLTT governments.”

The Senate is preparing a hearing on H.R. 2936.

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