House-Senate Conference Committee Approves $500 Million in Emergency Fire Funding Sought By Senator Feinstein and Representative Lewis
-Funding sought in wake of deadly Southern California wildfires-
Nov 06 2007
Washington, DC – A House and Senate Conference Committee today approved $500 million secured by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Representative Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) for emergency fire suppression, risk reduction and recovery needs required because of this year’s catastrophic fire season.
“This funding is a major infusion of federal dollars to help Southern California. It will help the Southland recover from devastating wildfires that burned more than 500,000 acres, killed eight, injured more than 100 and destroyed more than 2,000 homes. It will also restore critical firefighting and fire-prevention funding to the U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Department,” Senator Feinstein said.
“I want to thank Senators Byrd and Obey, the chairs of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, for moving this funding request forward, and Representative Jerry Lewis of California, the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, for his strong support in this effort. I also want to thank Representative Norm Dicks of Washington for joining me in requesting this supplemental funding for firefighting, fire prevention and recovery efforts.”
“Amid the terrible destruction caused by our recent fires, federal and state firefighters were convinced that our vigorous fuels-reduction efforts over the past few years saved lives, homes – and federal dollars by allowing a stronger counter-attack against the fires in the San Bernardino Mountains,” Representative Lewis said. “I am grateful that my colleagues will continue this effort in providing this emergency funding.”
“I especially want to commend Senator Feinstein and Congressman Dicks for their leadership in ensuring that the Forest Service maintains its momentum in trying to reduce catastrophic fires,” Lewis said. “It is becoming clear that every dollar we spend in this effort will result in savings down the line.”
The $500 million approved by the House-Senate Conference Committee would be spent as follows:
- $215 million to repay program funds borrowed by U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Department for last year’s spending;
- $150 million to the U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Department to fight wildfires;
- $90 million to reduce hazardous fuels, including dead, dying and downed trees that feed major wildfires. Of this, $60 million will go to clear hazardous fuels from federal lands, and $30 million will be for grants to clear hazardous fuels from state and private lands;
- $31 million for emergency rehabilitation and restoration of federal lands; these efforts will involve replanting new trees and stabilizing soils to reduce the risk of mudslides in burn areas; and
- $14 million to rebuild U.S. Forest Service facilities destroyed by the recent fires.
Senator Feinstein and Representative Dicks (D-Wash.) had asked the chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee for supplemental appropriations for firefighting, fire-prevention and recovery in a letter sent October 26, as wildfires ravaged Southern California.
The Southern California wildfires burned more than 500,000 acres, killed eight, injured dozens more, and destroyed more than 2,000 homes. It was the second major series of wildfires to hit Southern California in four years.
In their letter, Senator Feinstein and Representative Dicks noted that so far in 2007, fires had scorched more than 8.3 million across the United States, far above the 10-year average of 5.9 million acres.
As a result, the Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service were forced to spend a combined $1.8 billion in appropriated and supplemental funds on wildland firefighting in fiscal 2007. And both agencies were forced to borrow other program funds to fully fund firefighting needs through the end of fiscal 2007.
The California wildfires threaten to force both agencies to exhaust their fiscal 2008 funding well before the fiscal year ends.
The funding measures were approved as part of a continuing resolution attached to the $460 billion Defense Appropriations Bill approved by the Conference Committee. The bill will proceed to final votes in the House and Senate and then go to the President.
Immediately after the 2003 wildfires, Senator Feinstein and Representative Lewis secured $150 million for counties in Southern California to remove trees killed by drought and bark beetle from non-federal lands. They also worked through the Appropriations Committees to allocate nearly $60 million to reduce hazardous fuels in state and private lands, and $87.4 million for fire prevention efforts within the national forests in Southern California over the past four years.