Congressman Greg Walden, R-Hood River, is not known for raising his voice on the House floor, but he says he came close when discussing the perils of “fire borrowing” more than a decade ago.
“I pretty much got into a shouting match with Tom DeLay (then the House majority leader),” Walden said during a late September visit to La Grande.
Walden’s concern about fire borrowing is anything but a dying ember today. He remains a major supporter of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which would end fire borrowing, a process he said is seriously limiting the Forest Service’s ability to protect forests from devastating fires.
“Fire borrowing” refers to when the U.S. Forest Service doesn’t have enough money for fire suppression and uses money that would otherwise go toward other services. Ironically, these services, such as forest thinning and prescribed burns, are designed to reduce future fires.
Without money for prevention, the subsequent fire season often ends up being worse than it would be otherwise, he said, which further drains budgets for the agency.
This is unacceptable in the eyes of the congressman.
“We should allow the Forest Service budget to go ungutted,” said Walden, who represents Oregon’s Second Congressional District.
He noted that it makes economic sense to allow the Forest Service to consistently have the money it needs for proper forest management, which reduces hazardous fuel loads.
“It is four or five times more expensive to fight a fire than to do the work to reduce fuel build-up,” he said.
Versions of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act have been introduced in Congress four other times but did not pass. A fifth version is now in Congress, which Walden dearly hopes will pass.
“It is time that we get this resolved,” Walden said. “You can’t keep robbing Forest Service accounts to pay for fires.”
See complete story in Wednesday's Observer