Our View: Bipartisanship needed to push prevention policies

Statesman staffAugust 25, 2013 

On Tuesday, three U.S. senators took aim at inflexible sequestration restrictions and inadequate fire prevention policies they believe have become fuel for the raging wildfires in the West.

While blazes scorched paths from Arizona to Alaska and the cost of fighting them surpassed the $1 billion mark, there was a refreshing nonpartisan display: Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, Idaho Republicans, standing with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., agreeing about what is broken and what needs fixing during a press conference at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

Instead of laying more bricks for gridlock, which is often the case in Washington, we witnessed palpable traction and continued mutual respect among them. Each senator took a turn enhancing the others’ on-target points:

• Forests in their neighboring states need no-excuses surgical thinning, especially in arcs around population areas.

• Spending reductions due to sequestration are too short-sighted and rigid in regard to wildfire mitigation.

• In the long term fire prevention will cost less than firefighting, so budgets and spending must be recast to reflect that.

• Post-crisis programs such as stewardship contracts for logging will create jobs, stimulate economies and potentially create biomass energy sources.

Crapo, a colleague of Wyden’s on the Senate Finance Committee: “While we’re fighting big issues — like wildfire management — we’re also fighting a national debt crisis. ... We can achieve those savings levels in ways that are much less damaging to the economy and agency management.”

Wyden (like Crapo) has successfully facilitated meaningful forest management collaborations: “We must use this time — people turning on the nightly news to see the fires in the West — to get our colleagues’ attention. Congress is going to have to step up to deal with this broken policy. It’s going to have to be a bipartisan effort.”

Risch, who serves with Wyden on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee: “The environmental movement in America has matured ... you can sit down and talk to a lot of them and they understand that these fires are not good for anybody. You are putting hundreds of millions of tons of carbon in the air. These fires do not comply with the Endangered Species Act. They do not comply with any other federal rules or regulations.”

It was Risch who uttered a positive and candid connection with environmentalists. It was Wyden who kept bringing up the $17 trillion national debt.

The Flame Act of 2007 isn’t getting it done. The fires are still burning, and all the talk must lead to effective action or it is just more fuel for consumption. We are encouraged by the work of these three senators and hope the House of Representatives can emulate such cooperation. We think Rep. Mike Simpson could be a catalyst in advancing such thinking among his colleagues. He knows Idaho’s forest management problems well, as evidenced by his innovative idea that government consider treating wildfires like other emergencies (tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes).

We challenge the House to be as successful at bi-partisan efforts as these Western senators. The fires are getting worse. To borrow from Risch’s logic, these megafires of the future won’t care about your party, your politics or your ideology. They devour everything we leave behind that burns.

“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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