Policy Interns, Sarah Davidson and Conrad Kabbaz, participated in the Hill Day for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. Here are their views on the day.
It’s quite rare that National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club agree on an issue. Yet, both have joined American Forests, and over 250 other organizations representing a wide variety of interests, to urge Congress to stop fire borrowing and pass the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R. 167)!
This past June, we joined over 40 participants from the Partner Caucus on Fire Suppression Funding Solutions on Capitol Hill to advocate for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA). H.R. 167 will recognize the most extreme wildfires as natural disasters and fund them, like other natural disasters, through the Disaster Relief Fund.
Currently, wildfire suppression is funded at the 10-year average. When suppression costs exceed the budget, the USDA Forest Service and the Department of the Interior are forced to borrow from other accounts to pay for fire suppression. This prevents the implementation of critical programs, including programs that would reduce the risk of fires, such as hazardous waste removal.
Our day on the Hill began with a visit from Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), responsible for the bill’s introduction in January. He thanked the group for our advocacy efforts and reminded us of the importance of addressing this issue as soon as possible. We then split up to attend over 60 meetings in House offices to galvanize support for WDFA (H.R. 167). We aimed to secure more sponsorships from representatives and to encourage them to speak out in support of the bill on the House floor and with colleagues.
Danielle Watson, Assistant Policy Director at the Society of American Foresters, led my group of advocates, nicknamed the Forest Loyalists, to meetings with staff members for five Republican representatives from Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and New Mexico. Each office had different questions and concerns, but we made sure that the staff understood the importance of addressing this issue. Overall, we were pleased with how our meetings went. Though none of the representatives we met with have joined as cosponsors yet, we are hopeful that we will see their support in the future.
My group, the Forest Patriots, was led by advocacy veterans Rebecca Turner of American Forests and Cecilia Clavet of The Nature Conservancy. Meeting with a mix of Democratic and Republican staff members, I had the opportunity to witness different approaches to advocacy. It was interesting to see how these policy stalwarts adapted their communication strategy based on a prospective representative’s state, party, and other factors. Of the seven meetings we attended, three resulted in cosponsorship. The representatives who signed on were Colorado Democrats Rep. Diane DeGette and Rep. Jared Polis, and New Hampshire Republican, Rep. Frank Guinta, acknowledging that the effects of wildfire borrowing impact eastern states as well.
Our day on the Hill gave us a unique glimpse into the world of Congress and policy advocacy. The work of a forest advocate is not always glamorous, with much time spent waiting in hallways and reception areas. On the other hand, these lulls allowed us to truly take in our surroundings, the ornate state seals and eclectic office decorations. We both had instances of mistaken identities which allowed us to meet the Congressmen with whom we were meeting their staff. Sarah’s Forest Loyalists were mistaken for a high school field trip, allowing them to meet Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM). Conrad’s Forest Patriots were mistaken for members of a gardening association, leading to a firm round of handshakes from Rep. Polis (D-CO). Besides the inherent awkwardness of these interactions, they illuminated the hectic life of a public representative, the perpetual deluge of competing interests vying for attention.
Thanks to the hard work of the Partner Caucus, our advocacy day led to over 20 representatives to cosponsor H.R. 167. American Forests is encouraged by this progress and will continue to advocate for a wildfire funding solution in both the House and the Senate. Join American Forests in our advocacy efforts and urge your Congressional members to support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act!