The Senate is back from recess, and Washington, DC is up-and-running again. This past August, Senator Maria Cantwell kept a busy schedule in the state of Washington, hearing from locals on the wildfires raging their communities and on the steps we can take to better protect these communities. She is ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees wildland fire management.
On this issue, Senator Cantwell held two roundtables (one in Wenatchee, one in Yakima), toured a fire incident command center in Chelan, was briefed by state and local officials in Stevens County, met with firefighters and dispatchers in Colville, toured a fire suppression airtanker company in Spokane, spoke with evacuated residents at the Red Cross Shelter in Loon Lake and convened a field hearing in Seattle.
Get up to speed quickly on anything you missed below.
New Strategies, Budgets Needed To Fight Chronic Western Wildfires, Experts Say
KPLU 88.5 - Bellamy Pailthorp
New tools and new strategies are needed to fight and prevent wildfires nationwide. That was the sentiment at a field hearing held in Seattle by the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
One issue highlighted by Cantwell is the need to solve what’s known as “the fire borrowing problem.” This is when funding for emergency response to wildfire is taken from prevention program budgets. She says since 2002, more than $3.2 billion dollars was “borrowed” in this way.
“And that money was borrowed from other forest service programs to cover emergency firefighting costs," Cantwell said at the hearing.
"For the same amount of money, we could have a 50 percent increase in the number of air tankers. We could have 2,000 more fire fighters. We could have treated hazardous fuels on more than a million acres of the wildland-urban interface, where many of the homes are at risk.”
Read the full article here: http://www.kplu.org/post/new-strategies-budgets-needed-fight-chronic-western-wildfires-experts-say.
Cantwell, Goldmark push to protect wildfire prevention money
KIRO TV – Essex Porter
About 750,000 acres burned and 200 structures destroyed. The Washington lands commissioner calls it a hellish firestorm.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sen. John Barasso, R-Wyo., came together for a Seattle fact-finding hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
“We want to stop a practice called fire borrowing,” Cantwell said. “Basically, people take the money that should go to these prevention programs and fuel reduction programs and instead that money just goes out the door to fighting the fire.”
Watch the segment here: http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/cantwell-goldmark-push-protect-wildfire-prevention/nnSSk/.
Sen. Cantwell applauds FEMA declaration
KREM – KREM Staff
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell praised FEMA's emergency declaration for the state of Washington at a conference in Spokane Friday afternoon.
"This is a critical step in saving lives and protecting property," said Cantwell.
The declaration will make the state eligible for direct federal assistance. This support will go toward communications support, power generation threat assessment and crisis counseling.
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell praised FEMA's emergency declaration for the state of Washington at a conference in Spokane Friday afternoon.
Watch the segment here: http://www.krem.com/story/news/local/wildfire/2015/08/21/sen-cantwell-applauds-fema-emergency-declaration/32152235/.
Federal Firefighting Funds Will Run Out Soon
KING 5 News – Natalie Brand
The U.S. Forest Service will run out of fire suppression funds for fiscal year 2015 even earlier than expected. The agency thought current funding, budgeted at just over 1 billion dollars for the year, would last through mid-September, but now funds could be depleted in coming days.
Senator Cantwell's office began working on fire related legislation to address the challenges raised by last year's Carlton Complex Fire. However, this year has set a new record for Washington's worst fire season.
"We're spending a lot. The question is what can we do to reduce that bill?" said Senator Cantwell. "We think if you spend money on reducing our risk, and reducing the fuel that we'll actually not have to spend as much money as we're spending now."
Among the aims of her bill, the Wildland Fire Management Act of 2015:
•Solve the "fire borrowing" problem
•Establish a surge capacity to help during large fires
•Upgrading the air tanker fleet
•Encourage preventative treatments
•Improving firefighting technology and communications systems for affected communities
•Changing FEMA assessments for people who lost their homes after a fire
Read the full article here: http://www.king5.com/story/news/local/wildfires/2015/08/28/federal-firefighting-funds--run-out-soon/71290994/.
Cantwell urges ‘strategic approach’ to investing in wildfire prevention at Senate hearing
The Seattle Times – Jim Brunner
Stopping or slowing the annual march of catastrophic wildfires across the West will require reforms to the federal budget, smarter residential development and better management of public forestland, experts told a U.S. Senate panel in Seattle Thursday.
At a field hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, heard testimony from wildfire specialists and pledged bipartisan action to boost forest-thinning and controlled burns — and an end to the raiding of the U.S. Forest Service’s fire-prevention budget.
“We need a more strategic approach to investing in prevention. It will help pay for itself in the long run,” said Cantwell. She’s developing legislation that would halt “fire-borrowing,” which diverts money from prevention programs to cover firefighting costs, upgrade the Forest Service’s aging airtanker fleet and make other improvements to federal wildfire response.
Read the full article here: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/wildfire-experts-testify-at-congressional-hearing/.
Senators: More must be done to prevent future wildfires
The Associated Press – Martha Bellisle
As Washington and other Western states battle huge blazes this summer, two U.S. senators said at a field hearing in Seattle that more needs to be done to prepare for and help prevent future wildfires.
The federal legislation they are backing, the Wildland Fire Management Act, would establish community plans to reduce the risks of fires, support forest thinning and increase the ability to fight major fires so they don't grow into infernos that destroy homes and businesses.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., told The Associated Press at the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing at Seattle University she began working on fire legislation after last year's Carlton Complex fires - at the time the largest in the state's history.
"The focus needs to be on preparedness and prevention," she said. "We need to do work in advance."
Read the full article here: http://www.chronline.com/crime/senators-more-must-be-done-to-prevent-future-wildfires/article_a9de196e-4db1-11e5-88a8-8f0abcb89fe7.html.
Senate Hearing on Wildfires Urged to Help Bolster Firefighting Capabilities
Reuters – Bryan Cohen
Lawmakers were urged to boost federal funding for local wildfire prevention efforts at a meeting in Seattle on Thursday during a summer that has seen scores of major blazes across the drought-parched West.
Fire experts were addressing the field hearing of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held in Washington state, which has experienced its largest cluster of deadly fires on record.
"The need is urgent to make these changes and get better prepared for next fire season," [Cantwell] said.
An upcoming bipartisan bill will include the creation of a national program to train volunteer firefighters, she added, as well as upgrade the U.S. Forest Service's air tanker fleet and bolster rural communication infrastructure.
"It will help pay for itself in the long run," Cantwell said, calling on Congress to pass the bill before next summer.
Read the full article here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/08/28/us-usa-wildfires-idUSKCN0QV29Y20150828.
As wildfires rage and budgets dwindle, more federal funds sought for firefighting
Los Angeles Times – William Yardley
The record wildfire season scorching the West is prompting renewed calls for Congress to change how it funds firefighting, a push that comes as the head of the Forest Service said the agency would soon exceed its firefighting budget for the year — again.
This month, after three firefighters died battling a blaze near Twisp, Wash., lawmakers and officials expressed sympathy and support for firefighters and their families and declined to use the incident to press for policy changes. Last week, however, several have made public pleas for revising Forest Service funding so that other programs are not at the mercy of wildfires.
On Thursday, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, held a committee field hearing in Seattle to promote a bill she says she will introduce this fall, the Wildland Fire Management Act of 2015, which would increase funding for prevention efforts and firefighting equipment, such as planes that drop fire retardant.
Read the full article here: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-sej-wildfires-budget-20150828-story.html.
Sen. Cantwell Meets with Panel to Consider Future Cost of Wildfires
The Yakima Herald – Kate Prengaman
Haze from more than a dozen wildfires burning across Central Washington hung in the sky Wednesday as local, state, tribal and federal fire officials gathered at the Naches Ranger District headquarters to discuss wildfire policy with U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.
They told Cantwell that a combination of dangerously dry conditions, coupled with the lack of resources for fire prevention and preparedness, has created a unsustainable crisis.
Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is working on wildfire legislation to improve firefighting response and support more fuel reduction and community preparedness efforts. She came to Naches to gather ideas.
The theme of Wednesday’s discussion: We’re on the right track, but more investment is needed to speed up fuel reduction, community preparation and rapid, efficient response by firefighters.
Read the full article here: http://www.yakimaherald.com/news/local/sen-cantwell-new-tools-needed-to-improve-wildfire-prevention/article_ca3a33b2-4688-11e5-a77c-1f5ade5e1817.html.
Fires Drain Region’s Resources
The Daily Record – Lauren Takores
Cantwell convened a roundtable to discuss the ongoing wildfires with representatives from local, county and state agencies, including fire districts, police, sheriff, city and state government and forest management groups. She also gathered input on her white paper for an upcoming bipartisan bill, the Wildland Fire Management Act of 2015.
By the end of the hourlong discussion, the group said the three main ways to address wildfires are prevention, including better forest management practices like controlled burns and thinning trees, better communication among agencies during fires and eliminating regulations that impede firefighters’ ability to respond quickly.
Cantwell said the next steps are “to provide any immediate help and support from the Forest Service and to the community now to help fight these fires, and to move forward legislation that will give more tools to local communities to better prepare, and better communicate during emergency situations.”
She also wants to make sure firefighting budgets don’t take away from essential programs that are about preparedness.
Read the full article here: http://www.dailyrecordnews.com/members/fires-drain-region-s-resources/article_1ea386a8-46b4-11e5-a780-bbbcfbf4ea0f.html.
Senator Maria Cantwell Talks Wildfires and Plans for the Future
KNDU (NBC) – Caitlin Wilson
Wildfires across the state have left a trail of devastation, but both people on the front lines and back in congress are working to put a stop to that.
Senator Maria Cantwell came to the Yakima Valley Wednesday afternoon to speak with local emergency crews.
“Those community fire prevention plans are about how we prepare for wildland fires, what are the risks in our community, how do we reduce those risks, how do we help homeowners think about it, how do we get them to follow practices that will better protect their homes,” Cantwell said.
She's hoping meeting with people directly affected across the state will help them get more Federal support and funding; more money to use for firefighting tools and emergency planning, and to support our firefighters already stretched thin.
Read the full article here: http://www.nbcrightnow.com/story/29836872/senator-maria-Cantwell-talks-wildfires-and-plans-for-the-future.
Leaders Search for Solutions for Wildfire Management
Wenatchee World – Rick Steigmeyer
With yet another major wildfire consuming local homes and infrastructure, government and agency leaders gathered to come up with solutions to what has become a series of annual summer disasters.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) arranged the meeting of more than 20 local officials to gather information for a proposed bi-partisan fire bill she hopes to soon introduce. The bill would provide more resources for firefighters, better communication for threatened communities and extensive preventive measures like hazardous fuels reduction, controlled burns and community preparedness. The round-table discussion was held Tuesday at the Chelan County District 1 fire station.
Cantwell, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she decided to write the white paper report previewing the bill after talking to officials and residents involved in last year’s Carlton Complex Fire, the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.
The meeting was timely with the Chelan Complex and other fires adding to the toll of homes lost to wildfires this year.
“The number of wildfires and houses lost are growing exponentially,” Cantwell said, pointing to posters she brought showing the dramatic increase of homes destroyed by wildfire in the past 50 years. Cantwell said more funding is needed to reduce hazardous fuels through controlled burns. Other suggestions in her proposal include simplified firefighting management, improved emergency communication systems, modernized air tanker operations and support for community fire prevention planning.
Read the full article here: https://www.wenatcheeworld.com/news/2015/aug/18/leaders-search-for-solutions-for-wildfire-management/.