What others say: Money going up in smoke

  • By Baker City (Oregon) Herald editorial
  • Tuesday, September 26, 2017 9:46am
  • Opinion

The idea is so simple, and so obvious, that it’s hardly surprising Congress hasn’t acted on it.

The wildfires that have burned across hundreds of thousands of acres in Oregon this summer have revived one of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s priorities over the past several years.

The Oregon Democrat, with backing from the state’s other senator, Democrat Jeff Merkley, and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, has repeatedly tried to change the way the federal government pays to fight fires on public land.

Specifically, the lawmakers want the government to treat big blazes as it does other natural disasters such as hurricanes — by putting money into a separate account for that specific purpose.

The current budgeting system for firefighting is, to borrow Wyden’s apt adjective, “awful.”

Federal agencies, principally the U.S. Forest Service and BLM, frequently have to “borrow” money from their budgets to cover firefighting costs.

In a perversely ironic twist, this means the agencies often have less money to do work, such as thinning overcrowded forests, that can help reduce the size and severity of wildfires.

This creates a recurring cycle in which the government deals with the symptoms of the problem — the fires — but not one of its key sources — unhealthy forests. It’s roughly analogous to the government dealing with a river that frequently floods by buying a bunch of pumps rather than building a better system of levies.

We endorse the proposal to end what Wyden calls “fire borrowing.”

The Trump administration has been striving to reduce government spending, but when it comes to managing the nation’s hundreds of millions of acres of public land, one of America’s greatest resources, spending more to protect those vast expanses seems to us a worthwhile investment.

Moreover, it’s conceivable that over years and decades, a more concerted effort to reduce the fire danger will actually result in fewer blazes on public land, and a net savings to the government treasury.

Restoring forest health is not cheap, to be sure, in part because some of the necessary work, such as cutting small trees and lighting prescribed fires, doesn’t produce commercial products.

But the current situation hardly qualifies as a bargain, either.

The federal government has regularly spent more than $1 billion annually to fight fires over the past decade. And despite that expense, we continue to lose tens of millions of dollars in potential timber value, as well as the degradation of recreation areas.

— Baker City Herald,

Sept. 18

More in Opinion

The Alaska Capitol on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
Alaska Voices: Legislature deserves credit

A special session shouldn’t have been necessary, but at least it was only one day instead of 30 days.

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Alaska Voices: Please be safe, courteous, and legal as you fish in Alaska this summer

As you head out to hit the water this year, here are a few tips to help you have a safe and citation free season

An observer makes an entry in the Fish Map App on Prince of Wales Island. (Photo by Lee House/courtesy Salmon State)
Alaska Voices: Document Alaska rivers with new fish map app

The app provides a way for everyday Alaskans to document rivers home to wild salmon, whitefish, eulachon and other ocean-going fish — and earn money doing it

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Sustainability report is a greenwashing effort

Report leaves out “the not-so-pretty.”

Pictured is an adult Chinook salmon swimming in Ship Creek, Anchorage. (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Voices of the Peninsula: Proactive measures key to king salmon recovery

I have been sport fishing king salmon along the eastern shores of Cook Inlet and in the Kenai River since 1977

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Honoring the fallen on Memorial Day

As we honor the men and women who fell in service to our nation, we must keep their memories alive through their stories

Shana Loshbaugh (Courtesy photo)
History conference seeking input from peninsula people

The Alaska Historical Society will hold its annual conference on the central peninsula this fall

Coach Dan Gensel (left) prepares to get his ear pierced to celebrate Soldotna High School’s first team-sport state championship on Friday, Febr. 12, 1993 in Soldotna, Alaska. Gensel, who led the Soldotna High School girls basketball team to victory, had promised his team earlier in the season that he would get his ear pierced if they won the state title. (Rusty Swan/Peninsula Clarion)
Remembering my friend, Dan Gensel

It’s a friendship that’s both fixed in time and eternal

(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The false gods in America’s gun culture

HB 61 is a solution in search of a problem.

Most Read