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Washington in brief

Rahal-Grijalva-Dicks bid to put out wildfires passes House

Only days before a lightning strike in Washington state started the kind of reservation-endangering wildfire the ''FLAME'' act would dedicate funding to fight, the House of Representatives passed the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act. House Bill 5541 is now before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

On-the-scene reporting by the Yakima (Wash.) Herald-Republic newspaper indicates the blaze began in ''bug-killed timber'' and threatened a Yakama reservation sacred area, according to Yakama Nation forest management.

Fires of similar description would be fought with funding from a separate designated account under the bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the Natural Resources Committee; Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the Resources subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands; and Norman Dicks, D-Wash., chairman of the Interior Department Appropriations subcommittee in the House. Additional support has come from a broad spectrum of congressional members, including Republicans, prominent among them Don Young of Alaska.

''There is little reason to hope that fire seasons for the foreseeable future will be any less catastrophic than those of the last decade - the trend has certainly been working toward more destruction,'' Rahall said. ''Knowing that, we must be better prepared, and the FLAME Act will set us on the correct course.''

Introducing the bill, Grijalva underscored the need for public land managers to use protection and prevention funds for firefighting purposes, rather than emptying them every year in the fight against catastrophic wildfires. Dicks said escalating fire costs threaten the ability of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to carry out their core functions of land management.

With agency funding focused on the fire season, Rahall observed in announcing the bill's passage, the federal government is ''axing'' support for other vital public purposes, emphasizing the need for dedicated funding.

H.R. 5541 has been endorsed by the five former chiefs of the Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters, the National Association of Counties, the National Federation of Federal Employees, the Western Governors' Association, and nearly 40 other organizations, stated a release from the House Natural Resources Committee.

Dorgan applauds the progress so far in N.D. energy development plan

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and staff have responded to the urgings of Sen. Byron Dorgan for tribal energy development resources in North Dakota, and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee chairman summed up its efforts as a good start. Nine new personnel will be devoted to energy leasing and development at the Fort Berthold reservation, which is surrounded by oil wells, Dorgan said.

''But only one well has been drilled on the reservation,'' added the North Dakota Democrat in a committee release, ''despite the fact that it is located on top of the Bakken Oil Shale Formation, which has estimated reserves of nearly 4 billion barrels of oil. The Fort Berthold reservation is being left behind because of the [BIA, a sub-agency of Interior] bureaucracy, and that isn't fair.''

Kempthorne also committed $500,000 to hastening National Environmental Policy Act reviews at Fort Berthold. He cited the need for a systematic approach to the expanded volume of work.

Interior estimates a potential 100 wells on the reservation, with an estimated gross revenue of $2.9 billion over 10 years.