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Feinstein, Bennet, Colleagues Urge Appropriators to Fund Wildfire Recovery in the West




Washington–Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in two separate requests to the Senate Committee on Appropriations for federal funding to support wildfire recovery efforts in the West.

In the first request, the senators urged the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies to secure additional funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program to meet projected demand. The letter also calls on the subcommittee to reduce costs to local project sponsors in light of the effect of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on state and local budgets. The EWP program helps counties, towns and private property owners protect against post-fire damage. Additional funding, and greater flexibility on cost share requirements, would ensure that the USDA can partner effectively with state and local governments to recover from wildfires. 

In the second request, the senators called on the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies to secure additional funding for the Forest Service (USFS) to rehabilitate Forest Service lands after a devastating wildfire season. Wildfires burned millions of acres of public land across the West and the cost of repair and rehabilitation of these lands is significant. Without additional funding for reforestation, trail and facility repair and habitat restoration, the USFS may be forced to divert funding from existing programs or leave important recovery projects undone.  

In the letter to Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Chairman John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Ranking Member Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) the senators wrote, “Congress created USDA’s EWP Program in 1973 to help communities mitigate damage after a natural disaster. EWP is funded on an ad hoc basis, but as of August 25, the USDA had less than $45 million left to spend on EWP recovery projects. Without supplemental funding, it will be challenging for the USDA to partner effectively with counties, towns, and private property owners as they recover from natural disasters. Therefore, we ask the Committee to provide supplemental funding to USDA that will meet demand for the EWP program.” 

In the letter to Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Tom Udall (D-N.M.), the senators wrote, “As fire crews across the West work to contain the remaining fires, post-fire recovery is at the forefront of our constituents’ minds. Our states face an uphill battle to restore land, water, infrastructure, and ecosystems. In the long-term, recovery will require the U.S. Forest Service to invest in rehabilitation on National Forest System lands, including reforestation, repairing trails and facilities, restoring habitat, and other measures. These long-term rehabilitation efforts are vital to our economy in the West and the U.S. Forest Service’s partnership is crucial.” 

The text of the Letter to the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies is available here and below.  
 

Dear Chairman Hoeven and Ranking Member Merkley:                                          

We write to request that you include supplemental appropriations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program in a future appropriations bill.                                       

The EWP Program is a critical resource to assist our states as they recover from this year’s wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. This year, fires across the West have consumed millions of acres, with the three largest fires in Colorado’s history occurring over the past few months, while the Southeast faced a record number of hurricanes. These disasters will continue to threaten watersheds, private property, and critical infrastructure for weeks and months to come.                                      

Congress created USDA’s EWP Program in 1973 to help communities mitigate damage after a natural disaster. EWP is funded on an ad hoc basis, but as of August 25, the USDA had less than $45 million left to spend on EWP recovery projects. Without supplemental funding, it will be challenging for the USDA to partner effectively with counties, towns, and private property owners as they recover from natural disasters. Therefore, we ask the Committee to provide supplemental funding to USDA that will meet demand for the EWP program.                        

In addition to funding, we encourage the Committee to consider the unique economic circumstances that the COVID-19 pandemic has created. States and municipalities coping with natural disasters are also facing severe budget shortfalls and may struggle to afford the local match that the federal government typically requires for EWP projects. Therefore, we encourage the Committee to provide direction that would allow the USDA to cover up to 100% of EWP project costs, where appropriate.                                      

Thank you for considering this request and we look forward to working with you.  

                       

Sincerely,  

The text of the Letter to the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies is available here and below. 

Dear Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Udall: 

As you work to develop future appropriations bills, we request that you include funding for the United States Forest Service (USFS) to rehabilitate and repair federal lands affected by wildfires.           

The West continues to face one of its worst fire seasons ever, with the National Interagency Fire Center estimating that over 47,000 fires have consumed more than 8.5 million acres. Over two- thirds of the affected acreage is on federal land and almost 4 million, or 45 percent, is U.S. Forest Service land. Significant wildfires affected Forest Service land in Colorado, Oregon, Wyoming, and elsewhere. 

As fire crews across the West work to contain the remaining fires, post-fire recovery is at the forefront of our constituents’ minds. Our states face an uphill battle to restore land, water, infrastructure, and ecosystems. In the long-term, recovery will require the U.S. Forest Service to invest in rehabilitation on National Forest System lands, including reforestation, repairing trails and facilities, restoring habitat, and other measures. These long-term rehabilitation efforts are vital to our economy in the West and the U.S. Forest Service’s partnership is crucial. 

However, we are concerned that the U.S. Forest Service lacks sufficient funding for long-term rehabilitation and recovery. While both the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service have authority to fund short-term stabilization, the U.S. Forest Service lacks the authority to use suppression funds for long-term burned area rehabilitation and recovery. As a result, the Forest Service must either divert funding from other programs or leave important recovery projects undone. Therefore, we ask that you include funding, and any necessary direction, for the U.S. Forest Service to perform long-term wildfire recovery and rehabilitation. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter and we look forward to working with you.  

Sincerely,

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