On June 5, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing to discuss the outlook for the 2018 wildfire season and examine federal wildfire management programs. Witnesses testifying before the committee included the Interim Chief of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Ms. Vicki Christiansen, as well as Mr. Jeff Rupert, Director of the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) Office of Wildland Fire.
The main focus of the hearing was the potential for a particularly active and destructive 2018 season given warmer and dryer-than-average conditions, and ways that federal land management agencies can address and mitigate these risks. Last year, USFS and DOI spent a combined $2.9 billion to suppress wildfires that burned over 10 million acres. Administration officials discussed how they plan to deploy firefighting assets nationwide, increase active fuels management, use new technology and work with state, local, tribal and non-profit partners to coordinate responses.
“To date, about 1.7 million acres have burned, mostly in the South, Southwest and Rocky Mountain regions; this number is on trend with the number of acres burned last year at this time,” Chief Christiansen testified. “Wildland firefighting is not a solitary effort, and we rely on federal, tribal, state and local partners to provide a sustained and effective response across jurisdictions. This year the Forest Service and our partners have more than 10,000 firefighters, 900 engines and hundreds of aircraft available to manage wildfires.”
Director Rupert in his testimony stated that the integration of fire management with resource management planning across DOI is the cornerstone of Secretary Zinke’s Wildland Fire Directive and a core principle of the Wildland Fire Management program. He also stressed the importance of active forest management, claiming, “through more active management of our nation’s public lands, we can reduce the threat of large and costly catastrophic wildfires.”
America’s counties thank Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) for their attention to this matter and for holding this hearing to address America’s wildland fire management practices and programs. NACo has long called on the federal government to assist local communities in their efforts to protect our communities from wildfire risks, and will continue to work closely with Congress and the administration to find solutions that reflect the needs and interests of county governments.
In May 2018, NACo released the County Wildfire Playbook at NACo’s Western Interstate Region (WIR) Conference, developed by county officials to help communities become more fire-adapted and learn to live with wildland fire.
For questions, please contact NACo Associate Legislative Director Jonathan Shuffield at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.942.4207.