Tanker Turmoil

U.S. FOREST SERVICE NEEDS TO ACT NOW 

26May 2005

publishedby  http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov 


 The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House,the gentleman from California (Mr. ROHRABACHER) is recognized for 5 minutes.

 Mr. ROHRABACHER. Mr. Speaker, a few days ago a P–3 Orionaircraft, owned by Aero-Union, on contract to the U.S. Forest Service, crashedin California. This crash in and of itself reduced the current Federal fleet ofnonmilitary, firefighting planes by 10 percent. It probably also will lead tothe grounding of the remaining nine Federal aircraft currently available forfirefighting in the United States. So here we are, quickly approaching the fireseason, and our Federal fleet of civilian firefighting aircraft, which was 33strong only 2 years ago, will most likely be nonexistent this year. 

Yes, we may have a few small crop dusters. We have somehelicopters available. But if the wind comes up and a major conflagration getsout of control, our frontline firefighters will have no real backup. This wouldbe a calamity of death and destruction, made all the worse because it isavoidable if we act now. 

To have us become so defenseless is inexcusable. Not to take thesteps im-mediately to end this vulnerability would be even worse. So what do wedo? 

Today I am calling on the leadership of the U.S. Forest Serviceand the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take the steps necessary to prevent afire catas-trophe later this year. Do not leave us helpless and our firefightersvulnerable and unable to thwart a blaze for lack of a large tanker aircraftwhich should be available. And do not tell me that it cannot be done unless wehave billions of dollars. The U.S. Forest Service reg-ulations establishing therequirements for airplane-based firefighting are obvi-ously designed to protectthe good old boys and to discourage anyone else with new approaches and newalter-natives. I am suggesting that the U.S. Forest Service drop itsobstructionist policies that have prevented, among other things, the use offoreign fire-fighting aircraft to extinguish major fires in the United States. 

Specifically, the Russians have in-vested a large amount ofmoney in large capacity firefighting air tankers. We wanted them to invest inthis. We wanted them to invest in these things rather than in military hardware.Well, they invested and they can be any-where in the United States or yes,any-where in the world, in less than 24 hours. They have already played asig-nificant role in extinguishing huge fires in Australia, Greece, andelsewhere. Yet the U.S. Forest Service has blocked the Russians from providingtheir services here, even as we endured massive fire destruction in places likeFlorida, New Mexico, and in California. This stonewalling and obstructionism hasgone on for 10 years, even as our Federal firefighting air fleet deteriorated,and even as lives, homes, and other property were being lost to out- of-controlfires. 

This year there has been consider-ably more rainfall in southernCalifornia than usual. It does not take a genius to predict that the increasedrainfall we have already experienced will result in a proliferation of shrubgrowth, thereby increasing the danger of wildfires later this year. In short, weface a fearsome wildfire threat, and the U.S. Forest Service needs to act now,or we will have no large capacity fire-fighting aircraft tankers availableshould the worst occur. If we contract with the Russians who have largeca-pacity firefighting aircraft ready to go, we will save lives and property,even if we do that as just a stop-gap measure until domestic aircraft is builtand can be introduced. 

If the U.S. Forest Service does it right and does it right now,takes the steps that are required for these Rus-sian air tankers to assist us inextin-guishing a major wildfire and make those steps right now, we can actuallysave lives and save property. But if they do not take these steps now and welose property senselessly, they will be held accountable. If disaster strikesand people and animals die and valu-able property is destroyed as huge airtankers that could have helped remain grounded and kept out of the fight, thenthose responsible will be exposed for this incompetence. But that, unfortunately,will not undo the damage or bring back a life that has been lost.

 It is time for the Department of Agri-culture and the U.S.Forest Service to change its attitude, quit trying to protect a good-old-boynetwork which is unable to function, and to permit oth-ers to get into thisbusiness, including the Russians, who we would like to have invest in this typeof domestic, peaceful technology. 

Mr. JERRYT. WILLIAMS, Director, Fire and Aviation Management,Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC. 

DEAR MR. WILLIAMS: Reference your 19 Aug 2004 letter, File Code5700. My staff examined your response to the questions on the Air Tankergrounding by the Forest Service and the possible role of the Russian IL–76 infighting US wildfires. Your response has raised some very interesting questions.The recent news release saying that the Forest Service is planning to contractfor only 10 air tankers has added urgency to our inves-tigations. With the heavyrains in California this last winter, the additional brush and timber willcreate an extreme fire hazard here in Southern California. A review of yourAerial Resource Bridge Plan for 2005 indi-cates that you are only going tocontact for a maximum of 20 heavy fire fighting aircraft instead of the 33 airtankers that have been available in the past. Your RFP for heavy tankers hasexcluded the possibility of the use of foreign aircraft such as the IL–76, theCL–215, and the CL–415 to supplement the limited U.S. resources availabledue to your grounding of the air tanker fleet. It is not clear that theresources will be available to fight the fires if we have a fire season as badas we had several years ago.

 I am requesting that you prepare a briefing forpresentation at my Huntington Beach office to set the stage for discussionsbetween your experts and myself in Washington on the air tanker issues. Theprimary topic would be the FY 05 fire fighting plans with emphasis on the heavyair tanker fleet. Particular emphasis should be given to discussion of yourmodernization strategy and the role that newer aircraft will be playing.Information on the civilian C–130 fleet that is not included in your bridgeplan should be included. Since the military C–130’s appear to play animportant role in your fire fight-ing plans, it is inconsistent that thecivilian C–130 fleet capabilities have been excluded in your recent RFP. Adetailed explanation of this action is requested. 

The points of contact for this presentation are Dr. George Kuckin my Huntington Beach office and Chris Minakowski on my Washington staff.Before presenting me with the briefing in Washington, please have yourappropriate staff member travel to Huntington Beach for a prebriefing to Dr.Kuck


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