1.4 million acres.
To put that number into perspective, that’s nearly five times the size of New York City.
For Washingtonians, that’s how much damage last year’s fire season caused.
In fact, 2014 and 2015 back-to-back brought us the two worst fire seasons in Washington state history.
When it comes to wildfire season, we simply can’t afford to be reactive. Here’s an update on the latest:
MANAGING THE FORESTS
Preventing fires begins with properly managing our natural resources, particularly our forests. For years, the U.S. Forest Service has warned us that our forests are in terrible shape – overgrown, with timber just waiting to be tinder for the next major fire.
To solve this, last summer, I helped to pass the Resilient Federal Forests Act, which would prioritize forest management as a preventative measure, and modernize the way we pay to fight catastrophic wildfires. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would cover additional costs, allowing Forest Service funds to be properly spent on forest management.
PROVIDING NEEDED RESOURCES
After last year’s fire season destroyed more than 150 homes and damaged nearly 500, entire communities were left without any assistance from the federal government. So, I joined my colleagues in the Washington state delegation in writing a letter to FEMA on November 5 after the agency denied Individual Assistance for the communities devastated by last year’s wildfire season. The acreage damaged and the more than 400 homes damaged left entire communities to fend for themselves without vital assistance.
Supporting communities and ensuring they have the proper resources to manage forests and fight fires means sitting down with local leaders to figure out what they need to be successful in this effort. That’s why I regularly make the effort to do just that. I’ve held two fire round tables, including one just a few weeks ago in Spokane. The goal of these is threefold, really: 1) foster collaboration between county, state, and federal agencies; 2) identify and address the immediate needs of our communities; and 3) establish long-term goals.
As we discussed during my latest round table on wildfires, I helped to secure $4.2 billion for wildfire fighting and prevention programs, $670 million above the 2015 level, including $1 billion in a fire fighting reserve fund to further assist in combating “fire borrowing,” the practice of taking funds from other forest service accounts to fight fires. This creates a vicious cycle, leading to a decrease in funds for forest management efforts, increasing forests susceptibility to catastrophic wildfire.
That’s not all. I championed several provisions for the region including increased funding for wildlife prevention and firefighting which were included in a funding bill for the Department of Interior, which passed the House just last week.
COLLABORATION IS KEY
There will always be wildfires, but we can work together to reduce the devastation to our forests and local communities. In our area, our federal land managers don’t have all the tools they need to effectively manage the forest. Our firefighting collaboration between federal, state, tribal, and local governments continues to improve every summer, but our forest management has not changed. We must allow for more local management of our federal forests.
Last year I introduced a solution, known as the FORESTS ACT, which incentivizes local collaboration and decision-making within our National Forests. I believe partnerships and collaboration are essential in this effort, and I’m pleased to tell you this idea was incorporated into legislation known as the Resilient Federal Forests Act, which the still awaits approval from the Senate in order to become law.
I am committed to fixing the budgetary issues facing the Forest Service and providing the necessary resources to ensure that our forests are actively managed. When forests are not actively managed, undergrowth, dead trees, plants, and disease make our forests far more susceptible to catastrophic wildfire.
Please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have questions about our ongoing efforts to protect our nation’s forests.