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USDA chief: Soaring fire costs demand changes

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YAKIMA — The Forest Service, which is raiding its budget to pay for the escalating cost of Western wildfires, wants Congress to support a new funding system.

Wildfire suppression now accounts for 42 percent of the agency’s $5.6 billion budget, compared to just 16 percent of the 1995 budget, according to a new report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service’s parent department. That doesn’t include funds borrowed from other programs when fires burn through its budget, which has happened six out of the past 10 years.

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