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Obama Backs Northwest Senators' Plan To Fund Firefighting Like Disaster Aid

Jessica Robinson
Northwest News Network
The Beaver Creek Fire near Sun Valley, Idaho, covered more than 100,000 acres in 2013.

Fighting wildfires would be funded more like hurricane and flood response under a proposal out of the Northwest that won President Obama's endorsement.

The plan is being advanced by a bipartisan team of Oregon and Idaho senators in reaction to the growing cost of massive wildfires.

Federal agencies do make room in their budgets for the cost of fighting wildfires. But they're just estimates, based on prior 10-year averages. And huge fires, like last year's Douglas Complex in Oregon and the Beaver Creek Fire in Idaho, keep busting records.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo are offering a proposal in which agencies would be able to dip into an emergency account, much like FEMA does now in major disasters.

David Adler, director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University, says the bipartisan effort is an important recognition that fire seasons are getting more intense.

“The next question would be, does this mean that there's increasing agreement on climate change?" says Adler. "That's the tougher ideological hurdle to overcome.”

The plan, which President Obama intends to include in his budget, could free up to $412 million for fire prevention and fuels reduction projects.