Bennet, Gardner back legislation to separate wildfire prevention, suppression money

DENVER – Both of Colorado’s U.S. senators are calling for changes to the system that funds firefighting efforts as we reach the end of what has already been the costliest fire season in U.S. history.

Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) are cosponsoring a bill with senators from several other western states that would move funding to fight wildfires into a natural disaster fund and separate the money from the fire prevention fund.

The U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department currently have to take money from fire prevention programs in order to pay for the services to fight active wildfires.

The firefighting budgets for each year are currently based on the average cost of suppression over the past 10 years, and the senators say that Congress often has to appropriate more money after the initial budget is finalized because firefighting costs are underestimated.

The bill Bennet and Gardner are cosponsoring would keep the prevention and suppression funds separate. The renewed legislation comes after pushes by both senators to have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell revamp wildfire funding.

The Forest Service and Interior Department said last week that more than $2.3 billion had already been spent fighting wildfires this year, and 64 fires were still burning across 10 states.

“This bill would end the practice of fire borrowing—a necessary step that will enable the Forest Service to make responsible investments on the front end to restore our forests and safeguard our watersheds,” Bennet said.

“I’ve been working to advance this legislation to stop fire borrowing for several years, and I appreciate the strong bipartisan support to ensure the Forest Service has the funds it needs for clean-up and prevention efforts while also finally requiring the government to treat wildfires like it does other natural disasters,” Gardner said.

This year’s fires have burned more than 13,000 square miles—the fourth-highest total in a decade.

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