Barrasso: We Must Address America’s Wildfire Crisis

March 12, 2024

Wyoming’s forest management approach offers lessons that work.

Click here to watch Senator Barrasso’s opening remarks.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR), delivered remarks at a full committee hearing to examine the findings and recommendations of the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission. Despite Wyoming’s prominent leadership in forest management and mitigation, the commission did not include a representative from the state.

The hearing featured testimony from Ms. Meryl Harrell, Deputy Secretary, Natural Resources Department, U.S Department of Agriculture; Ms. Joan Mooney, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Policy Management and Budget, U.S. Department of the Interior; Mr. Cody Desautel, Executive Director, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation; Ms. Madelene McDonald, Senior Watershed Scientist, Denver Water; and Ms. Kelly Norris, State Forester, Wyoming State Forestry Division.

For more information on witness testimony click here.

Senator Barrasso’s remarks: 

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

“Thank you for holding this important hearing. Thank you to all the witnesses.

“As you said Mr. Chairman, wildfires are devastating communities across America and especially in the West.

“Wyoming is no exception.

“Just twelve days ago, the Happy Jack Fire threatened homes and infrastructure in and around our state capitol in Cheyenne, and as you pointed out Mr. Chairman, that fire was in February. This is very early for fire season.

“This fire serves as a sobering reminder that we are in a wildfire crisis. 

“And the crisis is not going to solve itself.

“Our federal forests are in dire need of effective management.

“In recent years, Wyoming and the other western states have endured wildfires of unprecedented size and destructiveness.

“These wildfires are wreaking havoc on our forests and our communities.

“So until we start to manage our forests properly, the crisis is going to continue to escalate.

“The Forest Service estimates that 278 million acres are at ‘high’ or ‘very high’ risk of wildfire.

“Mr. Chairman, this is an area more than 17 times the size of your home state of West Virginia.

“On average more than 6 million acres burn each year. 

“The federal cost to suppress these fires have exploded to well over $2.5 billion each year. 

“Fire seasons are now longer, they’re more destructive, and they’re more expensive.

“As summer approaches, rural communities are again bracing for what will likely be another devastating wildfire season.

“This committee has had this discussion before, and every year it becomes more-clear that we are on an unsustainable path.

“We can’t just keep throwing more money and more resources at the problem, we need to get back to the basics. We must start managing the forest in a serious and credible way.  

“We need to increase the pace and scale of our wildfire mitigation activities – that includes timber harvesting and hazardous fuel reduction.

“For years, officials for the Forest Service and Department of the Interior officials have testified that a paradigm shift is needed.

“In response, Congress has given both agencies billions of dollars in additional taxpayer funding.

“We still have not seen the agencies do sufficient work on the ground with what’s needed to do to address the crisis.

“So today we are reviewing another congressionally mandated report on how to address wildfires.

“The report is about 350 pages long. It includes 148 recommendations. And while all of us recognize the urgency of the problem, acting on nearly 150 recommendations, is impractical and it’s not entirely helpful.

“To effectively address the wildfire crisis, we need to strengthen what is working well. That means eliminating red tape to expedite critical fire mitigation projects.

“The Forest Service and the Department of the Interior must make these efforts a priority.

“But, they shouldn’t try to do it alone.

“From recruiting and training firefighters to mitigation planning and project work, Federal agencies truly need help.

“Federal agencies need to allow local communities, state agencies, and Indian tribes to help get this vital work done. We all need to work together.

“The commission report shows that we should focus our time and resources on cross-boundary, locally-led efforts to address wildfire risk.    

“Now, I remain troubled that the commission excluded representatives from my home state of Wyoming.

“Wyoming is a national leader in increasing the pace and the scale of good forest management while the same time increasing the wildfire preparedness.

“This is exactly what the rest of the nation needs to do.

“The Biden administration is not just failing to effectively manage our nation’s forests, they are actually pursuing what I believe are misguided nationwide mandates to prevent good management in old growth forests.

“Instead of restricting responsible forest management, this administration should focus on how to get more management done across fire prone lands.

“The Biden administration shouldn’t delay or make it more difficult to do this crucial work.

“I would like to welcome Kelly Norris, and I’ll introduce her in a little bit, Mr. Chairman, who is Wyoming’s State Forester, and as well as include all of  the witnesses today.

“Thank you so much for being here.

“Thank you Mr. Chairman. I look forward to the testimony.”