Washington, D.C. – Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today urged federal agencies to do more to reduce the severity of major wildfires by treating more hazardous fuels on federal lands ahead of the start of fire season, rather than facing larger, more dangerous wildland fires that cost dramatically more to fight.
“The message has not gotten through with respect to the choice: You can spend more modest amounts on the front end, with preventive kinds of efforts, or you can spend your time investing substantially more money trying to play catch-up as these infernos rip their way through the West,” Wyden said.
The White House budget office has resisted efforts to invest in hazard fuels treatment. A recent report by Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute showed that wildland fire prevention activities, including hazardous fuels treatment and restoration, can reduce fire suppression costs.
In light of the U.S. Forest Service’s decision Monday to award three out of seven contracts for next generation air tankers, Wyden also pressed Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell to get all of the tankers operational in time to assist firefighters this summer. The agency’s air tanker fleet includes planes that have been in use for decades and pose potential safety risks.
Additionally, Wyden urged the administration to implement the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act of 2009, which was designed to be a reserve fund to prevent other accounts from being raided to pay for firefighting efforts. The administration has treated the fund as part of the regular firefighting budget and has continued to take funds from important activities, including hazardous fuels treatment. Wyden pressed the administration witnesses to explain in writing exactly why the budget office has resisted these important prevention efforts.
“I just think our priorities are out of whack,” Wyden said. “That’s what you’ve heard Democrats and Republicans talking about and when one of these conflagrations rips through a community, nobody’s sitting around talking about Democrats and Republicans. They’re talking about why it seems, year after year, the federal government can’t get this right.”
Wildfires have already broken out in California, New Mexico, Oregon and Alaska. Forecasters predict this year could be another heavy fire season.