Western senators push wildfire legislation after most expensive firefighting season on record

BOISE, ID - The national cost of fighting wildfires is quickly approaching the $2.4 billion mark for 2017. This tops the previous record set in 2015 of $2.1 billion. 

Western lawmakers, including Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, met with representatives from the U.S. Forest Service and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue Tuesday to discuss the devastation across the west. 

Crapo has been working with Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, to pass the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, a bill aimed at treating wildfires like other natural disasters when it comes to budgeting. The bill would also combat "fire borrowing" or dipping into other parts of the budgets to cover the cost of fighting wildfires. 

Tuesday, Crapo told Perdue he wants to see the measure on Congress' next emergency spending bill, one that's expected to pass to secure funds for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico.

"We cannot keep saying let's do it on a different vehicle, let's do it at a later time," Crapo said. "We have an opportunity now. We have a crisis occurring now, and it's a predictable a crisis as we ever could have found."

Severe wildfires over the past decade have caused many firefighting agencies to engage in "fire borrowing", depleting funds intended for forest restoration and fire prevention programs. 

"We're not going to stop all the fires," Perdue said. "I do believe we can stop a lot of these 100-thousand acre fires that we see here by building some fire breaks and some barriers."

Perdue told the lawmakers he has spoken to the Office of Management and Budget about their concerns. 

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