Proliferating drought and climate change have parched large portions of the continent, dramatically increasing the risk of wildfire. The 2016 fire season is expected to be even worse than 2015, during which nearly 7 million acres burned in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
In an unusually bipartisan move, a group of U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle have recently joined forces to eliminate spending caps for emergency fire response and recovery. Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have drafted a bill that would allow the Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service to classify wildfires as natural disasters, effectively expediting the funding process and increasing the amount of money that can be allocated to wildfire emergency relief.
Currently, these agencies are forced to borrow from other programs when they reach the limits of their annual firefighting budgets-a practice referred to as ‘fire borrowing.’
The proposed legislation would also allocate $500 million for wildfire risk mitigation in at-risk communities in the Wildland Urban Interface, or WUI. The population of these communities, located mostly at the edges of Rocky Mountain cities like Boise, Denver, and Salt Lake City, is expected to increase approximately 30% by 2030.