Obama seeks $615 million to fight wildfires

President Obama asked Congress Tuesday for emergency cash to fight wildfires exacerbated climate change, along with a change that would treat wildfire funding like other natural disasters.

The $615 million request was part of a $3.7 billion package Obama proposed Tuesday, mainly aimed at addressing a surge of unaccompanied child immigrants coming to the border from Latin America.

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“This funding would provide for the necessary expenses for wildfire suppression and rehabilitation activities this fiscal year so we can fight fires without having to resort to damaging transfers from our wildfire treatment and protection activities,” Obama wrote in a letter to congressional leaders. “Too often in recent years, this cycle of transfers has undermined our efforts to prepare for and reduce the severity of wildfires, which is both fiscally imprudent and self-defeating.”

Wildfires have become increasingly severe in recent years, a phenomenon the Obama administration blames primarily on climate change. The fires are mainly in the West, where the federal government owns large swaths of land.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was open to Obama’s wildfire request, saying in a statement that it is “apparent that additional funding to prevent and fight wildland fires — especially in the West where the damage has been so great — is necessary.”

Rogers said he would review the request and respond appropriately “to ensure that proper assistance is available to help the people and communities affected by these devastating fires.”

The federal government predicted in May that it would spend $1.8 billion fighting wildfires this year, $470 million more than it had available.

The funding boost requested Tuesday would go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which coordinates wildfire fighting on federal land.

Wildfire fighting is of great importance to western members of Congress. They have supported Obama’s proposal to give the government more flexibility in how it pays for wildfires, treating the much like hurricanes or other natural disasters.

Obama sought such authority in his budget request this year, and repeated his request Tuesday.

“This approach would provide funding certainty in future years for firefighting costs, free up resources to invest in areas that will promote long-term forest health and reduce fire risk, and maintain fiscal responsibility by addressing wildfire disaster needs through agreed-upon funding mechanisms,” he wrote.