Sep 04, 2016 / Forestry

I believe in a dual approach to fighting wildfires

Last week I met with Incident Commander Nathan Rabe at the Spokane Fairgrounds for a briefing on the recent fires in Spokane and Eastern Washington. Times like these are tough for our community, but I was encouraged to see the swift, effective work of the pros on the ground. Above all – thank you to our first responders and volunteers for their courage and commitment to keeping us safe. Their bravery and resourcefulness are felt throughout the entire area.

Nathan Rabe

Me getting briefed by Incident Commander Nathan Rabe.

As your representative I’ve been helping to support the good work of our local officials and first responders, and leading on a number of proposals and efforts to fight the wildfires in our area (see my past op-eds on the topic here and here). I believe in a two-pronged approach:

  1. Better managing our federal forests; and
  2. Securing funding and rapid responses when wildfires do break out.

Here’s a closer look at some of my latest efforts:

  • During last year’s fire season, FEMA was unacceptably slow to respond to the governor’s request for help.  I fought for months to secure funding for firefighting and forest management efforts, and in December I secured $4.2 billion in funding after working with our local officials to learn how we can hold FEMA accountable for a more rapid response when requests for assistance are made, I am pleased to see that this year, FEMA approved the governor’s request in less than 24 hours.
  • After hearing from all of you in Eastern Washington, I introduced the FORESTS Act early last year proposing critical, common sense reforms to better manage our forests, incentivize local collaboration and decision-making, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, and provide economic opportunities for rural communities. Much of it was included in an effort I co-sponsored and helped pass through the House, known as the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015 (H.R. 2647). That bill, which is now in the Senate, incentivizes local collaboration and decision-making within our national forests. There is also a version of H.R. 2647 in the energy bill, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2016 (S. 2012). I urge the Senate to move forward with this legislation and prioritize federal forests.
  • I am also an early co-sponsor of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R. 167, also known as the WDFA). As you may know, the forest service will always fight fires–even when the wildfire suppression account has exhausted–by borrowing money from other accounts. The WDFA amends current law by classifying the worst forest fires as disasters and allowing those fires to be paid outside of the forest service’s budget.

Of course, there’s much more to be done. I am seeking locally driven solutions—from people who know our forests best—to develop strategic partnerships that can provide better stewardship of our forests. That’s why I’m doing everything I can to support our local A to Z Project for ensuring healthy forests. The project is the first of its kind: a public-private partnership to expand maintenance and treatment of the Colville National Forest and to increase local economic output through privately funded projects. The project has the potential to be the model for how local companies and nonprofits can work with government agencies to maintain healthy national forests. The benefits to the Colville National Forest and to the local economy are numerous. Just weeks ago, on August 12, I was honored to celebrate with all those who worked to get this project off the ground.

Wildfires 2

Celebrating with some of the individuals who made the A-Z project a success. 

I always appreciate your feedback on how to best plan for and fight the wildfires in our area — it truly guides my efforts as your voice in the House. Throughout numerous conversations and meetings with community leaders and first responders about how to handle wildfire preparedness, two messages were made clear to me: smarter funding, and more preventative, long-term forest stewardship. I am working to make both strategies realities.

Warmly,

Cathy