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Originally published Monday, March 10, 2014 at 4:47 PM

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Editorial: A budget change for wildfires

The Obama administration’s 2015 budget proposal looks at a new way to pay for fighting wildfires, a change that reflects their role in climate change.

Seattle Times Editorial

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WILDFIRES on federal land do more than destroy thousands of acres of timberland and consume vast sums of taxpayer dollars to suppress them.

Those infernos also destroy other federal budget funds designated for the maintenance of those federal forests and other property-management programs.

The Obama administration has proposed changes in federal budget procedures in the Interior and Agricultural departments that would treat those devastating wildfires the same as hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters.

The cost of fighting these fires has soared in the past decades, and their role in climate change concerns is drawing more attention from scientists.

The New York Times reports the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior spent an average of $1.4 billion a year putting out fires between 1991 and 1999. Wildfires have grown in size, ferocity and expense. Suppression costs averaged $3.5 billion per year from 2002 to 2012.

Current budgetary regulations fuel a raid on the funds intended to make federal land more resistant to fire and climate change. This effort has found rare bipartisan support in both houses of Congress. The Senate bill is sponsored by Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo.

The legislation has support among the Washington congressional delegation, as it should. Wildfires now ravage the federal budget in two ways. Call the blazes what they are: a natural disaster.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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