Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., today led a group of their colleagues in seeking answers from the U.S. Forest Service on the recent Trump shutdown and its impact on the agency’s critical wildfire prevention and fuels treatment efforts—answers that are especially pressing with the threat of another shutdown looming.
In addition to Wyden, Feinstein and Merkley, the letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen was signed by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
The senators highlighted the importance of the agency’s hazardous fuels work, as well as the narrow window of opportunity to complete often weather-dependent efforts, in preparing communities for the upcoming fire season.
“While climate change is a significant driver of these severe wildfires, high fuel loads also contribute to their deadliness. Western states count heavily on reducing hazardous fuels to lessen the threat of wildfires to their communities,” the senators wrote. “As the largest landowner in many Western states, the federal government has a duty to ensure that this essential forest work gets done.”
“Congress has repeatedly increased appropriations for hazardous fuels work, funding hazardous fuels at $430 million for Fiscal Year 2018, which is used for critical fire preparedness activities and fuels treatments like prescribed burns and forest thinning,” the senators continued. “Prescribed burns, in particular, are weather-dependent and have a narrow window of opportunity for fuels treatment, relying on cool, damp weather conditions that occur in winter months. We have seen reports that the government shutdown curtailed the ability of the Forest Service to conduct fire prevention and fuels treatment activities.”
In addition to requesting that the Forest Service provide information on hazardous fuels treatments affected by the shutdown and its plans to ensure their timely completion, the senators also sought answers on firefighting hiring and training, fire research and the economic impacts on tribes.
A full copy of the letter is below and available here.