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Simpson Tackles Wildfire, Sage-Grouse with DOI Secretary

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Washington, March 26, 2014 | comments

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson discussed the need to budget accurately for wildfire suppression costs and concerns about a possible sage-grouse listing with the Secretary of Interior.  Secretary Sally Jewell testified before the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, on which Simpson sits, regarding the Department of Interior’s budget request for FY15. 

Simpson’s bill, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, was a main topic of conversation during the hearing.  The bill aims to end the current practice of “fire borrowing,” where agencies must transfer money from non-fire accounts when fire suppression costs exceed the budget.  The bill would fund catastrophic wildfires, which are 1% of all wildfires but make up 30% of the cost, similarly to other natural disasters, like hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods.  The budget request includes similar language.

“It’s important for people to understand that we aren’t trying to spend more money on wildfires.  We already spend whatever it takes,” said Simpson.  “What we want to do is stop borrowing money from other accounts to pay for fire suppression.  We need to get this wildfire fighting bill done.”

Simpson also expressed concern about the pending decision of whether or not to list sage-grouse as an endangered species and the states’ role in that process.  “Some of the states are complaining that they aren’t being involved as much as they thought they would be,” he chided Jewell.  “They have concerns that the Department is not fully engaged with the states in looking at state management plans.”

The hearing also focused on the need to find long-term funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program and drought issues in the West. 

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