Editorial: Pass firefighting bill

Published Mar 2, 2013 at 04:00AM

When wildfires break out on private forest land, the state of Oregon is there to help. Landowners pay for that help, though the current method of calculating the bills has, in recent years, meant that landowners have picked up the full tab for fires covering more than 10 acres.

It’s a formula that the state Department of Forestry says is unfair and should be changed, and that is just what House Bill 2050 would do.

The proposed changes make sense.

Currently, the state and landowner split the cost of small fires, under 10 acres, evenly. That is not going to change under this bill.

The change is on the larger fires. Private landowners now pay the first $10 million of firefighting costs for larger fires on private land. The state picks up the next $15 million of the tab, and an insurance policy kicks in at $25 million.

The fact is, fires on private land have not hit that $10 million mark in the last decade, meaning that private landowners have borne the full cost of fighting the most expensive fires.

If HB 2050 is approved, over the next three biennia, the system will shift to one in which the cost of fighting large fires on private lands also is split evenly with the state.

In addition, the forestry department is asking for $1.6 million.

That does three things.

It beefs up its inventory of fire-fighting equipment to increase the chances of putting out fires while they are still small. It also enables the department to lower insurance rates for East Side forestland owners. They pay higher rates because of drier conditions but also make less money because they produce less timber per acre. And third, the increased money for initial attack would also drop the state’s insurance policy deductible to $20 million from the current $25 million.

The changes would benefit everyone. Firefighting costs would be split more evenly, a boon to private landowners. And, presumably, better equipment and better early response would work to prevent larger fires that are more expensive to extinguish. Pass HB 2050.

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