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Public Statements

Letter to Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader - Record Breaking Wildfires

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Unknown

Following 2012's record-breaking wildfires in the West, Oregon's Senator Jeff Merkley is calling on Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to ensure that there are sufficient resources available for firefighting through the end of the wildfire season. Due to the high number of fires this summer, the U.S. Forest Service has already exhausted its fire suppression fund for the year and may be forced to divert funding from core functions such as managing timber sales.

"Because the U.S. Forest Service has now run out of money in the fire suppression fund, it has no option other than to transfer money from other accounts to cover the costs of fire fighting," Senator Merkley wrote in a letter to the leaders. "This means that core functions of the Forest Service will take an even greater budget cut than they already faced this fiscal year. These transfers will have an especially dramatic impact in Oregon because the U.S. Forest Service is already struggling to advance timber projects due to tightened budgets.
"We cannot leave our rural communities
without firefighting resources, but we also must ensure that the Forest Service can continue to manage forests that sustain local economies."

In Oregon alone, 697 fires have burned over 1,240,000 acres of land, including the largest Oregon wildfire since the 1840s.

The full text of the letter follows below.

August 29th, 2012

The Honorable Harry Reid

Majority Leader

522 Hart Senate Office Bldg

Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Minority Leader

317 Russell Senate Office Bldg

Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Reid and Senator McConnell:

It has come to my attention that, in light of the historic number and magnitude of wildfires this year, the U.S. Forest Service has exhausted its fire suppression fund and will use its transfer authority to fill the funding gap. I would therefore urge that the Senate act quickly to pass emergency appropriations for the U.S. Forest Service fire suppression fund or find another solution to ensure that the Forest Service has the resources needed to fight fires without taking funding away from other core functions.

2012 is on pace to be the worst year for wildfires since records began in the early 1960s. Already, over 7 million acres have burned across the country. In Oregon alone, 697 fires have burned over 1,240,000 acres of land, including the largest Oregon wildfire since the 1840s.

As of today, there are many fires that continue to actively burn in Oregon and across the country, and there are still several weeks remaining in the fire season. It is therefore critical that there are ample fire suppression funds available to fight fires through the end of this historic fire season.

Because the U.S. Forest Service has now run out of money in the fire suppression fund, it has no option other than to transfer money from other accounts to cover the costs of fire fighting. This means that core functions of the Forest Service will take an even greater budget cut than they already faced this fiscal year. These transfers will have an especially dramatic impact in Oregon because the U.S. Forest Service is already struggling to advance timber projects due to tightened budgets.

U.S. Forest Service timber projects are essential to the economic welfare of our rural communities. One mill in eastern Oregon recently announced it would be forced to shut down later this year because not enough timber was coming off of the Malheur National Forest. While the U.S. Forest Service does have the option to use its transfer authority to ensure it has enough money and resources to fight fires, using this transfer authority will come at the expense of rural communities.

It is the responsibility of Congress to ensure that, during emergencies, Federal agencies have the necessary funds to protect the public and address those emergencies. We cannot leave our rural communities without firefighting resources, but we also must ensure that the Forest Service can continue to manage forests that sustain local economies.

We must therefore act quickly to pass emergency appropriations or find other funding for the U.S. Forest Service fire suppression fund and eliminate the need for the U.S. Forest Service to use its transfer authority and divert much needed resources away from projects that are essential to the economic well-being of rural communities.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent and important matter.

Sincerely,


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