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Wyden reintroduces legislation to step up the pace, scope of prescribed burns, reduce risk of catastrophic wildfires

Smoke from the Welcome Station 8 prescribed burn was visible across wide area Tuesday, May 14th
C.O. Fire Management Service
Smoke from the Welcome Station 8 prescribed burn was visible across wide area Tuesday, May 14th

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Representative Kim Schrier, D-Wash., on Thursday reintroduced the bipartisan National Prescribed Fire Act of 2024, which would support pre-fire season prescribed burns as an "essential, science-based strategy to save lives and property," the lamwkers said.

Here's Wyden's announcement about the legislation and its goals:

In the 2022 Fiscal Year, 63 million acres of National Forest Service lands were at high or very high risk of being a wildfire hazard. Since vegetation continues to grow at an increased rate, the Forest Service cannot keep up with addressing the current hazardous fuel backlog as the climate crisis worsens. 

The National Prescribed Fire Act of 2024 would invest in hazardous fuels management to reduce the risk of blistering infernos by increasing the pace and scale of prescribed  burns during cooler, wetter months. The legislation would create a technically skilled prescribed fire workforce, and streamline smoke regulations during winter months to reduce catastrophic fires and smoke in the summer. 

Wyden and Schrier were joined by U.S. Senator Padilla, D-Calif., and Representative David Valadao, R-Calif., in introducing the legislation.

“With the climate crisis making our summers hotter every year, it’s time we implement proactive strategies, not merely reactive ones, ” Wyden said. “Prescribed fires are the underfunded, often overlooked, and less-expensive 'fire extinguishers' backed by science, which every state needs in their back pocket. I’ve seen on-the-ground results first-hand throughout Oregon and want to see more investment in this proven firefighting approach throughout the state and across the country.”

“Here in Washington State, we’ve experienced the devastating impact of catastrophic wildfires firsthand, and as fires continue to grow in severity throughout the West, it’s imperative for Congress to act now and address this issue,” Schrier said. “My bill, the National Prescribed Fire Act, takes a sensible approach to forest management to lower the risk of catastrophic fires that harm our air quality, forests, economy, health, and communities.”

“Communities across California know all too well the disastrous toll large wildfires can take, especially when hazardous fuels are left unchecked ahead of dry months — and climate change is only making matters worse,” Padilla said. “Beneficial fire, like controlled burns, saves our forests, saves money, and most importantly, saves lives. As wildfire season grows increasingly severe, carefully prescribed fires are one of the most effective, cost-efficient tools to safeguard California residents from future disaster.”

The National Prescribed Fire Act of 2024:

  • Authorizes $300 million in total for accounts for the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to plan, prepare, and conduct prescribed burns on federal, state, and private lands. 
  • Requires the Forest Service and Department of Interior to increase the number of acres treated with prescribed fire.
  • Establishes a collaborative program, based on the successful Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, to implement prescribed burns on county, state and private land at high risk of burning in a wildfire. 
  • 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 prescribed burns, and give states more flexibility in winter months to conduct prescribed burns that reduce catastrophic smoke events in the summer. 
  • Provides direction for setting clear standards for prescribed fire practitioner liability and studying the merits of a claims fund to aid cross-jurisdictional wildfire prevention efforts

A one-page summary of the bill is here

The text of the bill is here.

The National Prescribed Fire Act of 2024 is endorsed by Tall Timbers, The Nature Conservancy, Society of American Foresters, Outdoor Alliance, Sustainable Northwest, Conservation Northwest, Watershed Research & Training Center, Silvix Resources, National Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils, SC Prescribed Fire Council, New Mexico Prescribed Fire Council, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, The Stewardship Project,Forest Stewards Guild, Climate & Wildfire Institute FiredUp: Federal Wildland Firefighter Partners for Progress, Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition, Forest Bridges: The O&C Forest Habitat, Inc., Intertribal Timber Council, and The Fire Restoration Group. 

“In Oregon, The Nature Conservancy has been using prescribed fire since 1983. Prescribed fire is an essential tool to restore and steward fire-dependent ecosystems, reduce the risk of extreme wildfire to communities, and help many of Oregon’s most iconic natural landscapes adapt in the face of climate change. We are grateful for Senator Wyden's leadership on the National Prescribed Fire Act – providing a pathway to accelerate the pace and scale of prescribed fire necessary to combat the wildfire crisis in the western United States,”  said Katie Sauerbrey, Oregon Fire Program Director at The Nature Conservancy.

“Senator Wyden’s National Prescribed Fire Act will enact crucial steps forward advancing prescribed fire at the pace and scale required to mitigate catastrophic wildfires, ensure public safety, promote climate resilience, and create the ‘green’ jobs of the future so urgently needed in rural communities. The Act will make an enormous difference on the ground in the West, especially, providing urgently needed solutions and advancing beneficial fire,” said Laurie A. Wayburn, President of The Pacific Forest Trust.

“The outdoor recreation community is increasingly affected by severe wildfires, which threaten public lands and recreation opportunities. Prescribed fire is a critical  and under-used tool for building fire resilience, especially in the western U.S. The National Prescribed Fire Act of 2024 would help increase the pace and scale of prescribed fire in areas where it is needed most and provide land managers with the tools they need to ensure that projects move forward with broad public engagement and support, including from outdoor recreationists. We commend Senator Wyden and Representative Schrier for their work to address America’s wildfire crisis,” said Louis Geltman, Vice President of Policy & Government Relations at Outdoor Alliance.

“Prescribed and cultural burning are the most effective, yet underutilized tools to address the nation's wildfire crisis. This bill proposes comprehensive and practical solutions to increase safe use of beneficial fire to restore forest health, protect communities, and reduce the risk of mega-fires. Congress should act to pass it immediately,” Dylan Kruse, Vice President of Sustainable Northwest.

“The National Prescribed Fire Act is a critical step forward in re-establishing the ecological integrity of our strongly fire-associated Western landscapes,” said Craig Thomas, Director at The Fire Restoration Group.

“The Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition strongly supports the provisions of the National Prescribed Fire Act. Prescribed fire is an essential tool for managing hazardous fuels in our forests and grasslands and preventing catastrophic wildfires from endangering rural communities. We urge Congress to provide resources to expand the use of prescribed fire through passage of this important legislation,”said Laurel Harkness, Coalition Director at Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition.

“As the nation grapples with climate change fueled wildfires, we need to update and strengthen our prescribed fire policies. Prescribed fire is one of our most important and effective tools to make our forests and grasslands resilient to drought, climate change, and wildfire. The National Prescribed Fire Act is a critical step in the right direction,”said Eytan Krasilovsky, Deputy Director of Forest Stewards Guild.

In October 2021, Senator Wyden made the case for how his National Prescribed Fire Act would reduce wildfire risks in Oregon and nationwide, during a U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the bill and other pending legislation. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included $500 million of combined funding for the Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture Forest Service to plan and conduct prescribed fires.

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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