(Senate - January 22, 2015)

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[Pages S422-S423]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


      By Mr. WYDEN (for himself, Mr. Crapo, Ms. Cantwell, Mr. Risch, 
        Mr. Bennet, Mr. Gardner, Ms. Baldwin, and Mr. Daines):
  S. 235. A bill to provide for wildfire suppression operations, and 
for other purposes; to the Committee on the Budget.
  Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, today I am reintroducing the Wildfire 
Disaster Funding Act of 2015 with a bipartisan group of my colleagues, 
to ensure that Federal agencies have the resources and funding they 
need to not only fight the wildfires that erupt yearly in our Nation's 
forests, but to effectively manage forests to prevent future infernos.
  For decades, our country has experienced tragic and costly wildfire 
seasons. Year after year, communities are displaced, natural treasures 
are destroyed, and the brave men and women who fight these fires risk 
their lives, and some don't come home. Due to climate change, drought, 
and overstocked and under-managed forests, the risks from these 
infernos continues to grow.
  As the Forest Service needs to direct more and more resources to 
fighting fires, and less to managing the forests, it is transforming 
itself into the ``Fire Service.'' Over the past 20 years, substantial 
spending on Federal wildfire suppression activities has grown. In 2013, 
the Forest Service devoted 41 percent of its total budget to wildfire 
management, compared to just 13 percent of its total budget in 1991. In 
8 of the past 10 years, the Forest Service has exceeded its budget for 
wildfire suppression, requiring the Agency to conduct what's known as 
``fire borrowing'' to cover wildfire suppression costs. The funds being 
borrowed come from accounts that should be used for hazardous fuels 
treatment and other forest management activities, and are unfortunately 
rarely, if ever, paid back.
  This ``fire robbery'' is disruptive, unproductive, and undermines the 
core mission of the Forest Service, particularly as forest management 
program budgets continue to get slashed. Hazardous fuels treatments 
have been proven to reduce fire risk, yet Federal agencies don't even 
have the opportunity or the funding to conduct these treatments when 
fires are breaking out and threatening lives and property for months on 
  Today I am reintroducing the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, to help 
our Nation find a better way to manage our forests, prevent future 
wildfires, and fund wildfire fighting activities, both small and 
catastrophic. Major wildfire events should be treated as the natural 
disasters that they are, and should be funded as such. This bill 
establishes parity for wildfire funding, putting it on equal footing 
with other natural disasters like floods and hurricanes. Whether it's 
water, wind, earth, or fire, the earth's natural disasters can all 
cause devastation and should be addressed equally.
  A Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture analysis 
shows that 1 percent of wildfires represent 30 percent of agency costs. 
To ensure that fighting the largest infernos doesn't cripple agency 
budgets, the bill would fund the largest fire even under disaster 
programs, leaving funds available for routine wildfire fighting and 
forest management activities. It does this by moving any spending above 
70 percent of the 10-year rolling average for fire suppression outside 
of the agencies' baseline budget and makes these additional costs 
eligible to be funded under a separate disaster account. This should 
free up discretionary funds that can now go toward hazardous fuels 
projects that will improve the health of our forests and ultimately 
prevent future wildfires.
  I am pleased to be joined again by Senator Crapo in introducing the 
bill today, as well as Senators Cantwell, Risch, Bennet, Gardner, 
Baldwin, and Daines. I look forward to working with my colleagues 
toward enactment of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act in the 114th 
      By Ms. HEITKAMP (for herself, Ms. Murkowski, Mr. Tester, Ms. 
        Hirono, Mr. Schatz, Mrs. Feinstein, Mr. Franken, Mr. Hoeven, 
        Mr. Udall, Ms. Klobuchar, Mrs. Murray, Mr. Thune, Ms. Warren, 
        Mr. Heinrich, Mr. Moran, Mr. Whitehouse, Mr. Blumenthal, Ms. 
        Collins, Mrs. Boxer, Mrs. Fischer, Ms. Stabenow, Ms. Cantwell, 
        Ms. Baldwin, and Mrs. Shaheen):
  S. 246. A bill to establish the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter 
Soboleff Commission on Native Children, and for other purposes; to the 
Committee on Indian Affairs.
  Ms. HEITKAMP. Mr. President, for those of us who are parents, we 
should want to make sure all of our children have the same 
opportunities as other children. This starts with a quality education, 
a safe and secure home, access to quality health care, and a community 
free of violence. These are deeply important issues. But too often, 
talk about protecting our Native children is left out of the 
conversation. Native children are too often considered ``them'' and not 
part of ``us.'' That needs to change--in fact, it must change. 
Unfortunately, for children in our nation's tribal communities, 
opportunities for success are often out of reach. As a result, Native 
children are sadly the most at-risk population in the country and face 
serious disparities.
  The Federal Government has a trust responsibility to provide for the 
education, health, and safety of Native children. But for far too long, 
we have failed to live up to this promise. We are failing by not 
keeping them safe, healthy, or providing them with educational 
opportunities necessary to reach their full potential.
  Native children have the third highest rate of being abused. They are 
overrepresented in foster care, more than 2.1 times the general 
population. Child mortality has increased 15 percent among Native 
children, while the rate among all American children has decreased by 9 
percent since 2000. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 
Native young adults ages 15 to 24 years old, 2.5 times the national 
average. The graduation rate for Native high school students hovers 
around 50 percent compared to 75 percent for white students. These 
numbers are simply staggering arid they are the direct result of 
growing up in communities that face significant challenges, high rates 
of poverty, staggering unemployment, child abuse and domestic violence, 
crime, substance abuse, and few economic opportunities.
  I have spent a great deal of time on Indian reservations in North 
Dakota. I

[[Page S423]]

am humbled to always be welcomed with open arms and treated like 
family. The tribes have a cultural sense about the need to defend their 
children. But because of the lack of resources, the stories are still 
incredibly jarring. I have seen firsthand the obstacles tribal 
governments confront in responding to the needs of Native children. 
Existing program rules and the volume of resources required to access 
current grant opportunities stymie efforts of tribes to tackle the 
underlying issues impacting our Native children. At the same time, 
federal agencies lack clear guidance about the direction that should be 
taken to best address the needs of Native children to fulfill our 
nation's treaty and trust responsibility to tribal nations. It is clear 
that Native children are suffering as a result.
  Too many times I have heard stories about Native children in North 
Dakota placed in juvenile detention centers for offenses that would 
likely not result in incarceration, except for the fact that they are 
Native American. I heard a story about a teenage girl in detention 
because of substance addiction. She wants to get the health counseling 
she needs, but hasn't been given enough support, as too often there 
aren't enough resources available. She wants to go to school and get to 
the correct grade level, but is now already two grades behind and is 
continuing to fall further back while in detention. Without anyone 
looking to help, she will likely fall further back. This is just one 
story. But there are too many like it. Unless we act, we are turning 
our backs on Native children throughout the country.
  I am determined to work to reverse these trends and end these 
terrible stories. We need to strive for a day when Native children no 
longer live in third-world conditions; where they don't face the threat 
of abuse on a daily basis; where they receive the good health care and 
education that help them grow and succeed. I will pledge to work to 
give these to today's Native children and future generations.
  To begin this effort, I am proud to introduce the Alyce Spotted Bear 
and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children. Since joining the 
Senate, I have talked about the importance of working across the aisle 
to get things done. That's why this is a bipartisan bill, as Senator 
Murkowski from Alaska has joined me in this effort, along with 20 of 
our colleagues. Our bill aims to address the sweeping challenges that 
Native Americans face by creating a Federal Commission on Native 
Children. It would begin a national conversation about the state of 
American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children. It is a 
conversation that is long overdue.
  The commission will be directed to complete a comprehensive study on 
the programs, grants, and support available for Native children, both 
at the federal level and on the ground in Native communities. Right 
now, so many of these details are lacking, which makes it more 
difficult for the Federal Government to determine what kind of support 
is needed. Then, the 11 member Commission will issue a report on how to 
address the series of challenges currently facing Native children. It 
is my hope that the recommendations will lead to the development of a 
sustainable system to provide wrap-around services and support our 
Native children, and also reverse the troubling statistics that have 
become all too familiar.
  I believe it is telling that this bill has received a great deal of 
support. I want to thank the National Congress of American Indians, the 
National Indian Health Board, the National Indian Child Welfare 
Association, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, and the 
National Indian Education Association, which have endorsed the bill, as 
has the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association, and the five tribes 
in my state of North Dakota.
  Additionally, this Commission is named in part after my dear friend, 
the late Dr. Alyce Spotted Bear, who passed away in 2013 after a hard 
fought battle with cancer--and Walter Soboleff from the Tlingit tribe 
in Alaska. Alyce was a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Ankara Nation 
in North Dakota and served as Chairwoman from November 1982 to March 
1987. She was an inspiration to all who knew her and a great leader--in 
North Dakota and throughout the country. She was an educator dedicated 
to enabling Native students to succeed academically and making sure 
Native American cultures thrive. She was a mother, to her children, as 
well as her students and her community. In recognition of her expertise 
in the field, President Obama appointed her as a member to the National 
Advisory Council on Indian Education. And at the time of her passing, 
Alyce served as Vice President of Native American Studies and Tribal 
Relations at the Fort Berthold Community College in New Town, North 
Dakota. I hope this Commission will be able to live up to the great 
legacy she left behind, and also help complete some of her work for 
Native children.
  As Sitting Bull once said ``Let us put our minds together to see what 
we can build for our children.'' That is exactly what this Commission 
will do, and I hope my colleagues will join us in supporting this 
important effort.