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Wyden, Manchin, Cantwell Introduce Legislation to Help Prevent Catastrophic Wildfires

Wildfire near Eugene

New Wyden-Manchin-Cantwell bill would support pre-fire season controlled burns as an essential, science-based strategy for reducing hazardous fuels to mitigate the worst effects of wildfires

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., today introduced legislation to help prevent the blistering and destructive infernos destroying homes, businesses and livelihoods and becoming all too common as the climate crisis grows.

The National Prescribed Fire Act of 2020 would support pre-fire season controlled burns as an essential, science-based strategy for reducing hazardous fuels to mitigate the worst effects of wildfire. The legislation would increase the pace and scale of controlled burns, create a technically skilled preseason controlled burn workforce, and give states more flexibility to regulate controlled burns in winter months to reduce catastrophic fires and dangerous smoke in the summer. 

“The disastrous infernos in Oregon and across the West have leveled entire communities to ash, and left Oregonians choking on dangerous smoke. If this isn’t a wakeup call for Congress to act on climate and invest more in smarter, science-based fire management, I don’t know what is,” Wyden said. “Good forest science is good climate science. Burning more when it’s safe in the off seasons will save us a lot later by preventing catastrophe in the summer and fall.”

“Wildfires are increasing in intensity, size and frequency; and the country is in need of a better approach to mitigate their devastating impacts.  We have already seen several catastrophic fires across the country this year, particularly in California where over three million acres have burned. We are seeing the results of not being proactive enough,” Manchin said. “As Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I will always work to ensure proper maintenance and conservation of our public lands, in part because it can saves lives and help reduce the losses that our country experiences from these natural disasters. That is why I helped to introduce this bill today. This legislation is a much-needed solution, and the tools and funding provided will ensure that we can better avoid these all-too-common, destructive wildfires.”

“Prescribed burns can improve the health of our forests and lands, mitigate wildfire risks, and allow for communities to plan for smoke events,” Cantwell said. “This bill will more than double funding for controlled burns that reduce hazardous, wildfire-starter fuels and makes it easier for federal and state officials to conduct burns by reducing burdensome requirements to burn outside the fire season. These tools will help reduce dangerous smoke and keep communities safe.”

In 2018, the Forest Service determined that 234 million acres of forest are at a high risk of dangerous wildfires. Yet, controlled burns treated only 3 million acres annually during the last decade. Federal land managers should be equipped to get ahead of the problem, especially as the climate crisis worsens. Unfortunately, because vegetation grows continuously, the Forest Service will never be able to address the current hazardous fuels backlog at its current pace. Moreover, controlled burns, on average, emit one-fifth of the smoke of wildfires. 

The National Prescribed Fire Act of 2020:

  • Establishes $300 million accounts for both the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior (DOI) to plan, prepare, and conduct controlled burns on federal, state, and private lands. 
  • Requires the Forest Service and DOI to increase the number of acres treated with controlled burns.
  • Establishes a $10 million collaborative program, based on the successful Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, to implement controlled burns on county, state and private land at high risk of burning in a wildfire. 
  • Establishes an incentive program to provide funding to state, county, and federal agencies for any large-scale controlled burn. 
  • Establishes a workforce development program at the Forest Service and DOI to develop, train, and hire prescribed fire practitioners, and establishes employment programs for Tribes, veterans, women, and those formerly incarcerated.
  • Requires state air quality agencies to use current laws and regulations to allow larger controlled burns, and give states more flexibility in winter months to conduct controlled burns that reduce catastrophic smoke events in the summer.

A one-page summary of the bill can be found here.

 

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