Congress Planning New Ways To Pay For Catastrophic Wildfires

Mar 17, 2014

Congress has begun an effort to change the way the U.S. pays for the cost of battling catastrophic wildfires. Arizona Public Radio's Gillian Ferris reports.

Firefighters on the Tonto National Forest set a controlled backburn during the Rodeo-Chediski Fire in 2002.
Credit Mike Blake/Reuters

The bipartisan plan was announced today as lawmakers from several western states met with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to discuss budget reform. Under President Obama's proposed budget, during the height of wildfire season, money for forest thinning and other wildfire prevention efforts would be prevented from being diverted to other funds or initiatives.

Historically, money set aside for forest restoration treatments — such as thinning — was used to pay for the season's largest, most destructive wildfires. New legislation introduced in Congress would mandate that when the cost of fighting a large scale wildfire reaches 70 percent of the 10-year average, fire and forest agencies could use additional money from the federal government's fund for battling natural disasters — like hurricanes — rather than use money set aside for wildfire prevention efforts. In the last dozen years, Arizona has had some of the largest wildfires in recorded state history, including the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, the Wallow Fire and last year's deadly Yarnell Hill Fire.