Fighting wildfires can be costly. Photo: DNR.
On KOMO News Radio this morning, Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark praised President Obama’s proposal of a significant change in how government pays to fight wildfires. Listen to the interview.
The Obama administration officials say it’s a move that reflects the ways in which climate change is increasing the risk for and cost of wildfires. Goldmark is glad the president recognizes the conflict of funding costly wildfires.
Currently, to fight wildfires, Congress has to use funds that would otherwise be used to prevent fires or to increase hazard mitigation, so if they have to dip into those funds, it takes away from other important funding. This approach can be counterproductive.
Goldmark says, “We’re very interested in the President’s proposal; we want to support it.”
In Washington State, DNR carries out normal firefighting activities, but when needed for suppression costs, we can use a special fund that the legislature repays. With changes in climate and worsening forest conditions, the situation is ripe, particularly in western states, for catastrophic wildfires. We need stable, adequate funding.
Obama is asking Congress to pay the costs of fighting extreme wildfires in the same way it finances the federal response to disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is authorized to exceed its annual budget and draw on a special disaster account. This proposal would create a similar exception.
It’s a positive development for Washington. Wildfires need to be put out as quickly as possible and as safely as possible.