With wildfires roaring through the western United States, a U.S. Senate subcommittee was set to consider a bill today that would implement a variety of wildfire-mitigation projects.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee panel on Public Lands, Forests and Mining was slated to discuss the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) to help protect communities from catastrophic wildfire.
A coalition of 13 Western state Farm Bureaus -- including California and Arizona -- and the American Farm Bureau Federation urged support for the bill Tuesday, as a means to address the region’s worsening wildfire crisis.
“As evidenced by the over 6 million acres currently burning in the West, our forests are at extreme risk for reoccurring, catastrophic wildfire,” the Farm Bureau coalition said. “Backlogs in adequate management, coupled with drier, hotter conditions, have resulted in unhealthy, overly dense forests.”
The bill would implement wildfire mitigation projects, sustain healthier forests that are more resilient to climate change and provide important energy and retrofitting assistance to businesses and residences to mitigate future risks from wildfire, according to Feinstein's office.
“Six of the 20 largest wildfires in California history have burned this year,” said Feinstein. “It’s clear that unprecedented fire seasons are becoming our new normal. Our approach to fighting these fires – and doing a better job at preventing them from growing out of control – must adapt, and adapt quickly.
“We have to clear dead and dying trees that fuel the spread of these infernos," the senator said. "We have to do a better job of fireproofing homes and communities. And we have to better prepare for power shutoffs that are increasingly necessary during high winds. The longer we wait to make these changes, the harder and more devastating these fire seasons will be."
'We must get back into the forests'
A companion bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, and Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley.
“To break the cycle of continued catastrophic fires, we must get back into the forests and reduce the fuel load," said LaMalfa, who attended a meeting Monday with President Donald Trump and California Gov. Gavin Newsom to discuss wildfire response. "Decades of mismanagement in our federal forests is the largest contributing factor to the destruction we have seen in recent years. For forty years we have not properly managed the forests and now our rural areas are paying the price again."
Farmers and ranchers across the West are “greatly impacted” by recurring, catastrophic wildfires, the Farm Bureau coalition said. First and foremost, fires create a risk to people—farmers, their employees and rural families—but fires also harm crops and livestock through flames, smoke and ash.
The Farm Bureaus said the Feinstein-Daines bill would expedite forest management, accelerate post-fire restoration and reforestation, and remove hazardous fuels from national forests.
“Our organizations believe that increasing the pace and scale of forest management activities, including mechanical thinning and controlled burning, reduces the threat of catastrophic fire, protects lives and communities, and helps safeguard Western natural resources and economies,” the Farm Bureau coalition said. “We are also very supportive of the provisions in the bill that would streamline permitting processes for hazardous fuels reduction projects and post-fire recovery efforts.”
The letter was signed by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the state Farm Bureaus from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.