In Idaho, wildfire season is approaching as hotter temperatures dry out what-is-now green undergrowth. At the same time, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson is trying to get his Washington D.C. colleagues on board with a new way to pay for fighting those fires.
Rep. Simpson is no novice when it comes to fire policy. The 10-term Republican Congressman has watched the cost of wildfires balloon in recent years, forcing the Forest Service to raid other parts of their budget to cover the bills. That's unsustainable, says John Freemuth with the Andrus Center for Public Policy and Boise State University.
“They borrow from other accounts that they have that Congress has given them money for," says Freemuth. "So they have enough money to fight the wildfires, but it means that other things don’t get done by the agency.”
Right now, the Forest Service has to dip into funds meant for services like fire prevention and trail maintenance to pay for wildfire deficits. Freemuth says that’s why Simpson has reintroduced a bill to end the practice, known as "fire borrowing."
“But he’s not attacking the Forest Service. He’s trying to say: 'I don’t want to support that.' What we need to do is have the rest of the country understand the cost of this and figure out a more sustainable way to pay for it.”
But Freemuth says it's hard to get other members of Congress on board when they don’t deal with wildfires in their home districts. Simpson has sponsored bipartisan legislation like this before without success. Freemuth says it’s not clear whether GOP control of Washington will help Simpson’s cause. President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts would impact the Department of Agriculture – which oversees the Forest Service.
Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill
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