U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today received testimony on a bipartisan discussion draft entitled the “Wildfire Budgeting, Response and Forest Management Act”, which would address the serious challenges of wildfire funding and forest management. Murkowski released the draft bill on May 25, 2016 with Ranking Member Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Jim Risch, R-Idaho; and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.
“People across the country are realizing that wildfires are a growing crisis. Alaskans, in particular, know how devastating wildfires can be. About half of the 10 million acres that burned last year were in my home state, and we have already seen over 200 more fires this season alone,” Murkowski said. “We have a real and growing problem on our hands, and resolving it will require a comprehensive approach that addresses both wildfire funding and forest management.”
Murkowski urged her colleagues to support the draft bill, which would provide substantial resources for wildfire suppression, permanently end the destructive practice of fire borrowing, increase preventative measures to reduce the risk of wildfires, authorize programs to fire-adapt vulnerable communities, and improve forest management in Alaska and across the nation.
“The wildfire problem is not just a budget problem – it’s also a management problem,” Murkowski said. “Healthy, resilient forests are fire-resistant forests. And yet, despite knowing the value of fuel reduction treatments in mitigating wildfire risks, increasing firefighter safety, and restoring the health of our forests, active management is still often met with a series of discouraging and near insurmountable obstacles.”
Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, also called out witnesses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior on their attempts to undercut the Senate’s bipartisan efforts to provide a long-term solution to the wildfire budgeting issues plaguing the U.S. Forest Service.
“The administration claims that it will use the hundreds of millions of dollars in funding that it wants to move off-budget for forest restoration and other measures that allow you to get ahead of the problem,” Murkowski said. “Regrettably, however, the President’s budget request for the Forest Service simply doesn’t bear this out. The bottom line is that the administration is saying one thing and doing another.”
Murkowski included $1.6 billion for wildfire suppression in last year’s omnibus, which is $600 million above the average cost over the past ten years, and may be enough to prevent fire borrowing in FY 2016. Last week, Murkowski reported her FY 2017 Interior-Environment Appropriations bill to the full Senate with a fix for fire borrowing and similar funding for wildfire suppression and preventative measures such as hazardous fuels reductions. Outside of the appropriations process, Murkowski has led the Senate’s effort to enact stand-alone wildfire budgeting and forestry management legislation based on her recognition of the need for long-term fixes.
Murkowski also spoke in strong support of a provision that she included to ensure that the Forest Service conducts a full inventory of young-growth timber in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska.
“This inventory needs to be real, and not just something that looks good on paper, because jobs and livelihoods are at stake,” Murkowski said. “The Forest Service needs to do what’s right and undertake what the Tongass Advisory Committee called for in its recommendations – a comprehensive, stand-level inventory to address the uncertainties that exist in the supply, volume, and timing of the availability of young-growth to support a transition.”
Murkowski concluded today’s hearing by reinforcing her commitment to advance the bipartisan discussion draft to the Senate floor as quickly as possible.
Archived audio and testimony from today’s hearing is available on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee website.