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Walden Press Release 1/31/05

Walden Calls on House Budget Chairman to Again Plan for Fire Costs

Forestry chairman asks for $500 million to cover emergency fire suppression

White Sulfur Springs, W.V. – The Chairman of the House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR), has asked the Chairman of the House Budget Committee to include $500 million in the fiscal year 2005-06 budget to pay for forest fire suppression costs should they exceed what is normally needed.  Walden made this request of Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R-IA) while Republicans were at their planning retreat this weekend in West Virginia.  The Budget Committee will start its work on the budget when the President delivers his to Congress next week. 

“In recent years, due to the increased number of large, expensive fires, wildfire suppression money has become exhausted long before the wildfire season is over.  This has forced the Forest Service to borrow money from other, non-firefighting, accounts.  The raiding of non-suppression accounts has caused serious harm to the continuity and viability of a number of Forest Service programs, including fuel reduction projects,” said Walden, who last week was reappointed to serve as the forestry panel’s chairman. 

Walden was successful last year in getting $500 million set aside for wildfire suppression - $400 million for the Forest Service and $100 million for the BLM.  Fortunately, an unusually wet August in the Northwest resulted in a dramatic reduction in fires so the agencies did not need to tap into the fund.  “But who knows what the weather holds for this year?  Given the very small snow pack in some parts of the West, we could be in for trouble,” he said.

According to the General Accounting Office (GAO), fires continue to burn increased acreage.  For 2000 through 2003, the GAO found the average number of acres burned annually on all lands nationally was 56 percent greater than the average acres burned annually during the 1990s.

“We still have 190 million acres of federal lands subject to catastrophic fire, bug infestation and disease, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of acres that are at risk to re-burn with an even greater vengeance if their desperate need of restoration following a previous catastrophic event is not met,” said Walden who co-wrote the Healthy Forest Restoration Act.

Since 1999, appropriations for wildland fire management activities for both the Forest Service and the Interior Department agencies has nearly tripled, from about $1 billion in 1999 to more than $2.7 billion in fiscal year 2004.  That includes a nearly four-fold increase in fuels reduction funding in the last five years.

“I anticipate that the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) will allow communities and federal agencies to come forward with a record amount of fuel reduction projects to safeguard our communities and protect habitat and watersheds.  Preventing or reducing the severity of fires by decreasing the fuel loads saves taxpayers money, protects lives of firefighters and citizens, and helps restore balance with nature.  But if we don’t properly budget, the funds for those fuels reduction projects will literally go up in the smoke of fire suppression,” said Walden who has asked the GAO to evaluate Wildland Fire Management by federal agencies.  The GAO’s report will be the subject of a hearing in Walden’s subcommittee in February.

After passage of HFRA in 2003, Walden held informational roundtables in southern, eastern and central Oregon to educate community leaders on provisions in the new law that allow them to help federal agencies prioritize where fuels reduction work is most needed.

Congressman Walden represents the Second Congressional District of Oregon, which includes 20 counties in southern, central and eastern Oregon. He is a Deputy Whip in the House leadership structure and a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce as well as the Committee on Resources.





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