Bills Would Stop Feds From Taking Fire Prevention Money

SHASTA COUNTY, California - U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell visited Redding on Tuesday and touted a new way to pay for fire prevention, which she said annually is looted to pay for fire suppression.

Jewell met with firefighters battling the thousands of acres burning across the North State and toured facilities at the Northern California Geographic Area Coordination Center in Redding.

During her tour, Jewell said federal officials are caught in a downward spiral of taking money from fire prevention and using it for fire suppression. Two bills in Congress, which the Obama administration supports, would change how firefighting is funded and prevent taking money from prevention, she said.

“It’s been a problem for decades,” Jewell said.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Director Ken Pimlott, who accompanied Jewell on part of her tour, said the lack of fire prevention work of forest thinning has made wildland fires more intense.

“We’ve got a significant fuel buildup all over the state contributing to fire intensity,” Pimlott said.

The proposed legislation would fund wildfires similar to how other emergency disasters are paid for, and agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management would not have to use money set aside for fire prevention for fighting fires, Jewell said.

“We need a better way to fund escalating wildfire suppression costs,” Jewell said. “The president’s budget proposal — and similar bipartisan legislation before Congress — gives the flexibility to accommodate peak fire seasons, without adding to the deficit or cutting important interior and Forest Service missions such as forest and rangeland restoration, fuels management and proactive community protection.”

After touring the northern operations center on Airport Road in Redding, Jewell toured the Swasey Recreation Area west of Redding where BLM officials have thinned trees and brush to reduce the likelihood of severe fire.

While Jewell was in town to learn more about the challenges facing firefighters, members of the Hoopa Tribe protested at the operations center against U.S. Bureau of Reclamation policies affecting the Klamath River.

About 20 members of the tribe held signs and asked the secretary to authorize more water to be released from Trinity Dam down the Trinity River to benefit salmon swimming upstream to spawn in the Klamath River.

The cooler water and higher flows help prevent disease that kills the fish.

Hoopa Tribe Chairwoman Danielle Vigil-Masten said salmon are already dying in the river because the water is getting too warm and there is too little water in the stream. The tribe and other groups have asked for more water to be sent down the Trinity River, which flows into the Klamath, to provide higher stream flows and cooler water.

“The fish are our livelihood, just as the water is our life blood,” Vigil-Masten said.

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©2014 the Redding Record Searchlight (Redding, Calif.)

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