Nevada’s major wildfires could be treated as natural disasters | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada’s major wildfires could be treated as natural disasters

Troy Wildes
Nevada News Service
Huge wildfires in Nevada and elsewhere will be treated as natural disasters if Congress approves proposed legislation.
Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey. |

CARSON CITY — Treating major wildfires in Nevada and elsewhere as natural disasters and spending more money on improving forest health are goals of proposed federal legislation.

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015 would update how the federal government funds suppression efforts. As Congress considers the bill, Nevada is facing a possibly severe wildfire season. Ed Smith is a natural resource specialist with the University of Nevada Cooperation Extension.

“It’s shaping up to be a serious fire season,” he said. “We’re predicting to have above-normal, significant wildfire behavior for Western and Northern Nevada.”

Smith said seven of Nevada’s worst wildfire seasons on record have happened in the past decade. He said there is plenty of wildfire preparedness information available at “livingwithfire.info.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell testified before a Senate committee last week, saying his agency’s budget is decimated each year fighting massive wildfires, resulting in cutbacks to thinning, prescribed fires and other programs that help to reduce wildfire risk.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said it would create separate funding for fighting the biggest fires, which would free up money to pay for other Forest Service programs.

“This bill would fund those catastrophic fires as natural disasters,” Heinrich said. “By making any fire suppression spending above 70 percent of the 10-year average for fire suppression eligible to be funded other a separate disaster account.”

Heinrich said improvements to roads, bridges and trails at several national forests have gone undone because of the huge costs of battling the biggest blazes.