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

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink promotes getting immunized with the flu shot this winter. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Health and Social Services)
Immunize when you winterize

An annual flu shot plus the COVID-19 vaccine protects Alaskans and our health care system, too.

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Dunleavy’s first act as governor was unconstitutional

That’s according to a ruling by Senior U.S. District Judge John Sedwick.

This Aug. 3, 2021, photo shows Juneau International Airport.  The Federal Aviation Administration shared recommendations on Thursday for improving aviation safety in the state. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: How the FAA will improve the margin of aviation safety in Alaska

Alaska depends on aviation more than any other state…

Central Peninsula Hospital is seen in Soldotna on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Perspective of an educator in a ‘high-risk’ group, part 2

During some of the darkest days of my time in ICU, it was obvious where we all live is a special place.

Lawmakers havereturned to the Alaska State Capitol for a fourth special session. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Revenues should be determined before more PFD spending

The governor believes the dividend drives the entire calculation. Sadly, he has it backwards

Ronnie Leach. (Photo provided)
Point of View: For Domestic Violence Awareness Month, #weareresilient

At the onset of COVID-19, we expanded our services in a way to ensure COVID-19 consciousness.

Rep. Don Young talks during a June 2021 interview with the Empire. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion:Where’s Don Young when America needs him?

Once upon a time, avoiding political controversy was completely out of character for Young.

Peter Zuyus
Voices of the Peninsula: Seniors appreciate vaccination efforts

To those who have worked to encourage vaccination we say: Be proud, you are, in fact, saving lives.

Jackson Blackwell (courtesy photo)
Voices of the Peninsula: Carbon dividends are the bipartisan climate solution

By levying a gradually increasing price on carbon, U.S. emissions will be slashed by 50% in 15 years.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy holds a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Dunleavy: Facts Matter

Political opportunists care more about spreading political untruths than accepting the facts.

Steve Hughes. (Photo provided)
Voices of the Peninsula: We are all victims of COVID-19

It is disturbing to hear, as a triage nurse, the many reasons cited for not getting a vaccine that are based on misinformation.

Opinion: LGBTQ+ Alaskans deserve respect and dignity

Like every state that lacks equality, we need federal protection.