The U.S. Forest Service received a fresh injection of wildfire fighting money in the $15.25 billion hurricane relief package signed by President Donald Trump Friday.
The House earlier in the day gave final approval to the package, which also raises the national debt limit and continues to fund the government through Dec. 8.
Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both Democrats, helped attach the wildfire aid to the package — a move frequently made by western lawmakers in recent years as a series of devastating forest and rangeland fires have wrecked the region.
“We’ve been able to get a fix, get it signed into law in a manner we couldn’t have done if there wasn’t a [legislative] vehicle in that fashion,” said Merkley, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The Senators say they will now turn their attention to obtaining a permanent fix to the Forest Service’s chronic problems in funding wildfires, which has consumed a growing chunk of the agency’s budget.
A 2015 study found that those costs had risen from 16 percent in 1995 to just over half of the Forest Service budget. As a result, the agency has often been forced to take money from programs aimed at preventing fires in the first place. Western lawmakers would like to offload the cost of the biggest fires onto other disaster relief accounts now used to pay for such things as hurricane damage.
The wildfire funding issue is also mixed in with debate over how federal forests should be managed. House Republicans have included the wildfire funding fix in legislation they’ve passed to also increase logging levels. But those bills have been blocked by Democrats in the Senate who say it goes too far in reversing current environmental protections.