Senators Crapo, Risch, Wyden attend briefing with U.S. Forest Service on upcoming wildfire season
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Forest Service projects that the upcoming wildfire season will be another historic year of destruction across several Western states. Thanks to bipartisan legislation, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is well-positioned to lay the groundwork to stabilize its wildfire fighting efforts beginning this year and well into the future. The legislation, recently passed by Congress as part of an omnibus spending measure, is the result of more than five years of efforts led by Senators Crapo, Risch, and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who served as the lead Democrat of the measure, to bring impactful solutions for fighting wildfires not just in the West, but nationwide.
In addition to Crapo and Risch, the briefing was attended by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Following the briefing, both secretaries signed a memorandum to wildland fire leadership highlighting the importance of collaboration across all departments to increase firefighter, public, and community safety during the 2018 wildfire season. The 2017 wildfire season was one of the most challenging years on record, which reinforced the critical need for both the Departments of Agriculture and Interior to work together in combating this year’s fires.
“2018 is showing all signs of another historic year. The National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook predicts above significant wildfire potential in a dozen Western states at various times between now and the end of the August,” said Vicki Christiansen, Acting Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. She later added, speaking to the members of Congress attending the briefing, “Our work goes beyond wildfire response. It is about improving forest conditions. We need to get a lot more work done through active management and the tools you gave us in the omnibus will help us do that….By 2020, the fire funding fix will stabilize our operations for work on the ground and dramatically reduce the risk of fire transfer. The fix allows us to carry out the forest condition improvements to prevent catastrophic wildfires from threatening lives, homes and communities in the first place.”
The fire transfer risk referenced by Christiansen refers to the practice by USFS of taking funds dedicated to other maintenance priorities to fight forest fires. The practice results in less resources for the very activities that can prevent large, devastating fires, and the harmful fire cycle worsens as forest health projects are tabled.
“The fire funding fix is the result of years of work between bipartisan members of Congress from both chambers to address how we handle wildfires not just in Idaho but nationwide,” said Crapo following the event. “This new, significant resource provided to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will stop the curve of ever-increasing costs associated with fire borrowing so that the agencies can focus on management of our forest lands. That will mean stronger ecosystems, stronger watersheds, more recreation, more resilient forests, more wildlife and fish, and all the things that people want from Idaho’s forests and grasslands.”
“We’ve redone the way that firefighting is going to be funded, to free up the agency’s money to be used for what it should be used for – and that is land management,” said Risch. “This was a bipartisan team effort and I’m glad that after so many years my colleagues and I have gotten this passed.”
“There is a real sense in the West that we’re finally getting on with what we need to do. And in a few weeks, we should have a plan from the Forest Service for how the agency will address the fire prevention backlog,” Wyden said. “Last week, Oregonians in rural parts of our state told me they’re concerned there won’t be enough air tankers to stop the spread of fires this summer. That’s why I pressed Secretary Perdue, Secretary Zinke and Acting Forest Service Chief Christiansen about what they’re doing to ensure air tankers are available when the blazes start.”
The event was livestreamed and can be viewed here online.
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