Congressional delegates, Forest Service chief discuss wildfire funding

Credit: Mike di Donato/ KTVB

Congressional delegates, Forest Service chief discuss wildfire funding

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by Stephanie Zepelin

Bio | Email | Follow: @ktvbstephanie

KTVB.COM

Posted on February 19, 2014 at 10:45 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 20 at 12:02 AM

BOISE -- Last summer, Idaho saw a fire season that put lives, homes and even whole cities in danger.

Wednesday, all four of Idaho's Congressmen met with U.S. Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell. It was at an event for the Idaho Forest Restoration Project, where Tidwell discussed new fire funding legislation and collaborative land management projects, which includes creating jobs in Idaho.

Idaho's 2013 fire season may have seemed extreme, but it is becoming more common, according to top Forest Service officials.

"What we're seeing in Idaho is the new normal, and so these large fires that become almost explosive over night, is the conditions that we have to learn now how to deal with that." said Tidwell.

Tidwell says something needs to change, with the changing "normal" of fire season in the United States.

"I'm concerned about it because all indications, it's just going to continue unless we really accelerate our restoration efforts, so that we can do more of the work to reduce the fuels, reduce the severity of the fires, so that when we do get a fire started, it doesn't threaten the communities," he said.

Tidwell said in eight of the last 10 years, the Forest Service has had to shut down some of its operations in August, and transfer funds to cover the cost of fighting major wildfires. Senator Mike Crapo and the Idaho delegation want to fix that funding issue, with a new bill.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and Crapo reached across the aisle and introduced a bill to reform federal wildfire policy, get more funding for prevention, and change natural disaster classification to include the largest wildfires.

"What we are going with this bill, just boiled down to it's essence, is stop the process by which fighting wildfires causes us to rob the Forest Service funds that are used for proper forest management activities, and then leave the Forest Service without an adequate budget to manage properly," said Crapo.

Crapo said the bi-partisan bill will allow the Forest Service to more effectively prepare for and fight wildfires, like the ones we saw last year in Idaho.

"It was over 1,500 fires in the last year, and over three quarters of a million acres burned just in Idaho," said Crapo. "I think that's a very damaging thing to our forests and to the economies of the communities that live near and around those forests. We can manage better than that."

All four of Idaho's Congressional delegates, along with chief Tidwell, support this bill.

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