WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell last week questioned the Forest Service chief about the agency’s efforts to reduce wildfire risks during the upcoming fire season.
Recent forecasts predict “above normal” wildfire activity this spring and summer throughout Washington and northwest Oregon.
At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing to examine the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request for the Forest Service, Cantwell highlighted projections by the National Interagency Fire Center that point to a worse-than-normal wildfire season in both eastern and western Washington for April through July.
The prediction does not include August and September, which are traditionally some of the worst months for wildfire activity.
“This is concerning to me, that we are projected to be above normal as it relates to fire season,” Cantwell said. “You get my attention anytime the map targets western Washington and southeast Alaska and basically say that in early June we could be above normal for fire season. That’s not normal.”
In her questions for Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen, Cantwell highlighted bipartisan legislation she sponsored during the last Congress to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for wildfire prevention and fuel reduction programs, and asked Christiansen to ensure the critical efforts continue to receive the funding they need.
“We worked very hard, collaboratively, to try to give money for fuel reduction – $546 million in the omnibus. We want to make sure that money is being used as best as possible at this moment. Can you assure me that is going to happen, that you are going to spend fuel reduction money that Congress has given you?” Cantwell asked.
“We are not going to wait, and I can assure you we are going to invest those funds in the most critical places with the highest risk,” Christiansen responded.
Cantwell also asked Christiansen about how new technology for firefighters could be implemented to lessen the impacts of fire season throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“We definitely want to get ahead of this,” Cantwell said. “I think the technology that we were able to pass in the wildland firefighting bill to do thermal awareness on fire starts – I just want to understand from you what we can do to use that now.”