USA —With wildfires already charring thousands of acres across the nation and fears that this year will bring many more, Congress has cleared legislation that will allow the Forest Service to move faster to increase the size of its the fleet of aging aerial tankers that are crucial to battling the blazes.
The legislation, written by OregonSen. Ron Wyden, would waive a 30-day waiting period that’s required before the Forest Service can award contracts for seven new tankers. The agency says it wants to award the contracts, but has to wait until late June to make it official.
The Senate passed the measure Thursday. The House vote clears the bill for President Barack Obama’s signature.
Wyden, a Democrat, sent a letter to Obama on Friday urging him to quickly sign the legislation into law.
It is urgent that this legislation be signed by you as soon as possible to address the Forest Services dire shortage of air tankers to combat ever mounting wildfires, Wyden wrote in the letter. It is clear that both chambers of Congress felt that little could be served by simply delaying the award of these contracts while action is urgently needed.”
The Forest Service has said it plans to award contracts for seven tankers to beef up its inventory of large aerial tankers. Under current law the Service must wait 30 days before finalizing the transactions.
But the with fires burning in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and other parts of the West, Wyden argued that the planes are needed now. The Forest Service’s fleet currently includes 11 large tankers. Wyden points out in his letter that the size of the fleet in 2006 was 44.
The Forest Service contracts with private firms to supply the planes.