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Western senators say bill to scrap fire borrowing gains support

(Left to right) Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat from Oregon, and Idaho Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo attend a news conference Monday at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. (KBOI photo)

For years, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat) and Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch (Republicans) have urged Congress to treat wildfires as natural disasters, making them eligible for emergency funding through FEMA.

Currently, money is taken from land treatment and other forest service prevention programs to pay wildfire supression costs, a process known known as fire borrowing.

But the money seldom gets repaid.

"We need to recognize that this one percent of the fires that causes 30 percent of the cost are catastrophic," said Sen. Crapo at a press conference Monday at Boise's National Interagency Fire Center with Risch and Wyden. "They are disasters just as much as a hurricane, a flood, or a tidal wave."

And now the senators from the West have an powerful ally in the East.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, says a beetle infestation is killing trees in upstate New York used to produce bats for major league baseball.

And Schumer says federal funds to fight the beetle are being diverted to pay for wildfire expenses.

Fire borrowing, Schumer says, is hurting America's favorite pastime.

It's an example, say Crapo, Risch and Wyden, that the effects of wildfire are felt far beyond the West.

"it's a wake up call," said Wyden. "The reality is it is such a drain on resources, the baseball bat is just one example, people probably wouldn't have thought that, but it is an actual industry for one of our colleagues."

The senators from the West hope Schumer's support will help swing a vote in Congress after the summer recess to scrap fire borrowing practices.

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