A bill that would make big changes to how the federal government pays to fight wildfire passed the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday.
Currently, if firefighting costs exceed their budgeted amount – as they have done often in recent years – federal agencies have to borrow from fire prevention programs. Under the new Republican-backed legislation, the government could treat fire more like a hurricane or tornado and apply for emergency funds through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This kind of fix has broad support.
But the bill also contains more controversial provisions that would change the rules for how federal forests are treated after a wildfire. On a conference call with reporters, Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon said those changes are crucial.
“We see these catastrophic fires every year, devouring our budgets, devouring our forests, devouring our communities… These are devastating all the way around. We’ll always have them, but if we can get the forests back into shape, they won’t be as destructive,” he said.
The bill would make it easier to push salvage logging projects through. It would also make it more difficult to use the court system to challenge timber sales and forest policies.
These strategies could be sticking points for the legislation in the Senate.
Oregon Democrats Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader voted for the bill. Washington’s Republican representatives also supported the legislation.