Letters From the West

Jewell joins Idaho Republicans and Oregon Democrats in support of wildfire funding fix

Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch returned Monday to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, where last August they called for reforming fire funding.

This time they brought Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who represents the Obama Administration. They also brought Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, one of the House’s most conservative members.

Wyden’s Oregon colleague, Sen. Jeff Merkley, also was there along with Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.

All of them spoke out in support of the Wildfire Disaster Act that Wyden and Crapo were the original co-sponsors on. Wyden said it was the meeting Aug. 20 with Crapo and Risch – the latter serves on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee with Wyden – that sparked the idea of treating large fires as disasters.

That will allow the agencies to stop “robbing” other program funds, such as fuel treatment spending like logging and thinning, to pay for firefighting, Wyden said.

“This is a national shift in fighting wildfire,” Wyden said. “It (was) right here in this set of buildings last August.”

Crapo said the bill also will allow collaborative forest programs to keep moving forward, which will speed up resource development.

“If we can more effectively manage these lands we will have fewer fires that will become disasters,” Crapo said.

Jewell said passage of the bill will end the uncertainty federal employees now face over their work, including seasonal workers and students in job programs who now get cut off abruptly when the fire fund runs out of money.

Labrador said he would like less than the current 63 percent of Idaho to be owned by the federal government. But he supports the bill.

“As long as its owned by the federal government, it’s our moral responsibility to make sure it’s managed well,” Labrador said.

Pick up Tuesday’s Idaho Statesman or visit IdahoStatesman.com for more on Monday’s presentation.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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