The last thing American forests need is another chicken-and-egg scrap about whether funding or management is the best approach to improving the health of U.S. Forest Service timberlands. The truth of the matter is, you cannot get to management if you must spend all your resources fighting catastrophic fires year after year.

That practice — called fire borrowing — is standard procedure. The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, faced with firefighting bills that far exceed the money allotted to control fires and protect life and property, must take funds from other parts of their budgets to pay the bills. As a result, there’s less money for thinning, for controlled burns, or for any other of the forest restoration projects they hope to do.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle recognize the problem.

Difficulties come, however, when they’re required to reach the sorts of compromises needed to get legislation passed.

It happened again on Nov. 1, when the Resilient Federal Forests Act was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressmen Greg Walden, R-Hood River, a co-sponsor, and Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon City, voted for the bill; Oregon’s other three Democratic representatives opposed it. The bill does get at fire borrowing, but it also aims to speed up management practices such as thinning and salvage logging.

Oregon’s two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, meanwhile, have said they’ll oppose the bill in the Senate, as well.

Wyden and Merkley continues to push to have the cost of catastrophic fires handled the way other natural disasters are — with access to a federal disaster relief fund.

The disagreement over what to do promises to leave the Forest Service, BLM and the forests where they’ve been for years, with neither the money for restoration nor a plan to spend it on. It must stop.

The Oregon delegation, Democrats and Republican, must agree to work for legislation that at least just ends fire borrowing this session. They all know that without that shift, there’s no chance of serious improvements to forest health.

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