Finally. Someone’s actually talking about the issues that matter to Rim Country. U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake dropped by last week to chat with leading officials from all over Rim Country. He could have talked about any number of national and international crises. Fortunately, he talked about wildfires.
Sen. Flake and Sen. John McCain have proposed a creative overhaul of how the Forest Service budgets for wildfires. Clearly, the current approach doesn’t work, thanks to a dramatic increase in the size and intensity of wildfires. A century of forest mismanagement compounded by a decade of drought exacerbated by human-influenced global warming has spawned a crisis. Wildfire-fighting costs have soared to $2 billion annually. Every year, the Forest Service scrambles to transfer money from other funds to fight fires. Sometimes, that means using thinning money to put out the latest wildfire. That’s just crazy.
McCain and Flake have proposed setting aside a much larger chunk for fighting fires initially as well has allocating a lot more money for thinning projects — like the Four Forest Restoration Initiative. The legislation would also help streamline the analysis of thinning projects.
The bill’s a promising contribution to the effort to solve a critical problem.
The McCain/Flake approach differs in key details from a parallel proposal by the Obama administration. Now we must all hold our breaths to see whether the two sides can seek common sense compromise rather than once again yielding to the urge to score political points.
We can’t say we’re optimistic — given the political climate in Washington. But both McCain and Flake have demonstrated a willingness to reach across the aisle. They’ve proven themselves brave problem-solvers in the past. Now we hope they’ll apply that political courage and smarts to wildfires by finding solutions rather than placing blame.