USA — The number of U.S. Senators calling for proactive changes in the way federal agencies are able to fight and prevent catastrophic wildfires is growing on Capitol Hill, becoming more bipartisan and regionally diverse. Last summer, Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch joined Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) for an event at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise to push for reforms in the way agencies like the U.S. Forest and Bureau of Land Management fight and prevent such fires. The new effort comes as wildfires killed 92 firefighters alone this past year, according to FEMA. Nearly two million acres burned across the country this past year, according to NIFC, which listed the costs of fire suppression at nearly $2 billion per year in 2011 and 2012.
The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management face a dire situation due to the growth of wildfire suppression spending which has disrupted the already strained budget for forest management, the 17 senators wrote in a new, bipartisan letter to the Chairman Wyden and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
We appreciate the Committees renewed focus on addressing the root cause of these economic and social hardships through reform of the National Forest System intended to increase the pace and scale of forest management, including timber harvest, the senators noted, also noting how the extension of the Secure Rural Schools program for an additional year assists county governments surrounded by federal lands exempt from property taxes.
Crapo and Risch note the expansion of senators pushing for proactive management reforms to reduce the risk of fires can both protect lives and improve the economy. In addition to Crapo and Risch, the bipartisan list of senators signing the letter includes: Senators Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas), Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), John Boozman (R-Arkansas), Max Baucus (D-Montana), Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), Mike Lee (R-Utah), John Thune (R-South Dakota), Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) and Jon Tester (D-Montana).
Crapo and Senator Mike Bennet (D-Colorado) have also urged their colleagues to push FEMA to use a greater share of its mitigation funding to prevent catastrophic wildfires in the coming years.