Wyden, Merkley, Crapo, Cantwell, Risch, Murray Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Boost Fire Prevention Efforts

Washington, D.C. – In the wake of another historic wildfire season, a bipartisan group of western senators introduced a common-sense bill to better prepare for and prevent costly wildfires. 
The Wildland Fires Act of 2017 will help further the federal and state firefighting agencies’ “National Cohesive Fire Strategy” by authorizing additional funding for at-risk communities and directing federal agencies to treat their most-at-risk forests to better protect communities and to re-establish natural fire regimes.

“Historic, record-breaking wildfires are wreaking havoc across the West – taking lives, demolishing homes and endangering communities,” Wyden said. “This bill will provide funding for fire prevention programs and focus on the communities and neighborhoods most in harm’s way by allowing them to start getting ahead of these growing infernos. This is another piece of our determined, bipartisan pursuit to fight wildfires, which includes my bipartisan bill to end fire borrowing and create the comprehensive solution Oregon communities deserve.”

“As this year’s devastating and tragic fire season has made all too clear, our second-growth forests are a ticking time bomb waiting to go off,” Merkley said. “We have neglected thinning to make our forests resistant to fire for far too long. We must change that. Otherwise we all lose, with scorched forests and scorched communities year after year.”

The Wildland Fires Act is a companion to the Wildfire Disaster Act, which would end the problem of “fire borrowing” by paying for forest fires like other natural disasters, freeing up millions of dollars each year for wildfire prevention efforts like hazardous fuels reduction projects.

This bill:
• Directs the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to provide up to $100 million in funding to at-risk communities to plan and prepare for wildfires;

• Establishes a pilot program that directs the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to treat their top 1% most-at-risk, least-controversial lands over the next 10 years (and in doing so install fuel breaks in the wildland-urban interface and, outside of the WUI, conduct prescribed fires); and

• Authorizes longer-term contracts to provide stability to companies involved in restoration projects on federal land, and gives a preference for companies that will use forest products to create mass timber, e.g., cross-laminated timber;

• Authorizes the federal agencies to re-purpose unused wildfire suppression funds to conduct preparedness projects to get ahead of the problem. 

The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Patty Murray, D-Wash. 

The bill is supported by Conservation Northwest, The Lands Council, National Wildlife Federation, American Forest Restoration Council, International Association of Fire Chiefs and Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology (FUSEE).

Find bill text for the Wildfires Management Act of 2017 here.  

Find a section-by-section summary of the bill here