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Wednesday, May 19, 2004                                           
For Immediate Release                                            

Final Budget Provides Additional $500 Million to Ensure Agencies Have Adequate Firefighting Funds

Walden had called for legislative language to prevent looting non-firefighting accounts if firefighting costs exceed annual budgeted figure

WASHINGTON, DC - Congress is set to vote on a budget resolution this week that fully funds the bipartisan Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HR 1904) and also includes a provision to provide an additional $500 million for forest firefighting.  U.S. Congressman Greg Walden, (R-OR), says the changes are a big win for the West.

"Getting this authorization in the budget is a huge victory," said Walden, who chairs the Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health.  "For those who have joined me in complaining that too often the government doesn't properly budget for the cost of fighting fires, now we all have the opportunity to do something about it by passing this budget."

Walden continued, "As importantly, the budget we have before us allows for full funding of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act.  Once again, we've worked diligently to make sure that the BLM and the Forest Service will have the necessary funds to reduce the threat of catastrophic fire.  For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, we could not have hoped for a better outcome.  Now it's time to come together and put our votes where our rhetoric has been.  It's time to pass the budget and lock these provisions into law."

The $500 million in additional firefighting funds contained in the Budget Resolution was provided in an effort to ensure that the Forest Service and Department of the Interior have adequate firefighting funds during the summer wildfire season.  This funding can be accessed if it is needed to supplement the $790 million currently being used to fund fire suppression operations.  In recent years, the agencies have been forced to borrow funds from non-firefighting accounts after firefighting funds have been exhausted before the end of the annual wildfire season.  In 2002 the Forest Service and Interior Department were forced to borrow $1 billion to pay for wildfire suppression costs, and in 2003 the agencies borrowed $795 million for the same purpose.  Such borrowing inhibits the agencies' ability to conduct land management duties unrelated to firefighting.

Recent history suggests that the current Forest Service and BLM fund of $790 million for wildfire suppression will be insufficient to meet the nation's firefighting needs this year.  Walden, who coauthored last year's Healthy Forests bill to reduce wildfire outbreaks, pressed House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-IA) to include authorization for supplemental wildfire funding in this year's Budget Resolution.  In a March 26, 2004, letter to Nussle, Walden urged funding flexibility to prevent a "wildfire suppression funding crisis."

In recent days, Walden has led a bipartisan effort with Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) to return the nation's large air tanker fleet to operational status following a decision to ground the tankers over safety concerns.  On May 18, Walden convened a meeting with top officials representing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  During the meeting an agreement was reached in which the FAA will assist in establishing procedures for inspecting air tankers in the hope of returning a number of large tankers to service before the height of the summer wildfire season.  A follow-up meeting between Walden, DeFazio and the federal agencies to discuss the progress of the agreement is scheduled for June 3.

Congressman Walden represents the Second District of Oregon, which includes 20 counties in southern, central and eastern Oregon.  He is a Deputy Whip and a member of both the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Resources.

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