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Congressmen Simpson, Schrier, Schrader Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Mitigate Wildfires & Protect Forests

Congressmen Simpson, Schrier, Schrader Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Mitigate Wildfires & Protect Forests

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Representatives Mike Simpson (ID-02), Kim Schrier, M.D. (WA-08), and Kurt Schrader (OR-05) introduced the National Prescribed Fire Act of 2021 to protect our communities from the catastrophic effects of wildfires. This bipartisan bill would invest in hazardous fuels management by increasing the pace and scale of prescribed burns, create a technically skilled preseason controlled burn workforce, and streamline smoke regulations in winter months to reduce catastrophic fires and smoke in the summer.

“In Idaho we understand the impacts of catastrophic wildfire firsthand. As a member of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee and the Wildfire Caucus, providing adequate funding for both wildfire suppression and forest management has been one of my top priorities," said Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson. “This bipartisan legislation is a great example of the old adage that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Over time, fuels reduction programs will pay significant dividends in the reduction of firefighting and restoration costs."

“With each successive year, wildfires have gotten worse throughout the West, destroying our communities and public lands. This year, there have already been more than 200 fires in Washington State, and wildfire season has only just begun,” said Rep. Schrier. “During the off-season, it is crucial that we work to mitigate the potential for future wildfire and improve forest health in order to protect our communities. That’s why I’m so proud to partner with Senator Wyden to introduce legislation to support pre-fire season controlled burns as an essential, science-based strategy for reducing hazardous fuels to mitigate the worst effects of wildfire.”

“Failure to proactively address the health of our forests directly contributes to record breaking wildfires every year, destroying our lands and communities,” said Rep. Schrader. “Last fire season was especially destructive in Western Oregon, coming at great personal losses and financial costs that could have been mitigated with more robust investments in active forest management. By implementing consistent policy around proactive fuel treatment measures like prescribed burns, the National Prescribed Wildfire Act will help us begin to tackle the current hazardous fuels backlog to reduce the number and severity of wildfires.”

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced companion legislation in the Senate  with Joe Manchin (D-W-VA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

Over the last two decades, the West has experienced growing wildfire risks, with longer fire seasons and bigger and hotter fires. These blistering and massive infernos are devastating homes, businesses, livelihoods, and the economic vitality of Western communities. Scientists and environmentalists agree that pre-fire season controlled burns are an essential part of the strategy for reducing hazardous fuels to mitigate the worst effects of wildfires.

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 2021 would:

  • Establish $300 million accounts for both the Forest Service and Department of the Interior (DOI) to plan, prepare, and conduct controlled burns on federal, state, and private lands.
  • Require the Forest Service and DOI to increase the number of acres treated with controlled burns. 
  • Establish 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. 
  • Establish an incentive program to provide funding to state, county, and federal agencies for any large-scale controlled burn. 
  • Establish 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. 
  • Require 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.

“America’s forests and rangelands are facing threats like never before. Climate change, increasing drought and more than a century of fire suppression have created a dangerous and untenable situation for these landscapes and their communities. Prescribed fire, when done in the right place at the right time, can help address these challenges and restore balance to ecosystems. The National Prescribed Fire Act of 2021 will provide a much-needed boost to our nation’s prescribed fire workforce. Increasing funding and the number of acres treated will improve the health and sustainability of our forests and rangelands. Its emphasis on cooperative, cross-boundary burning will improve effectiveness and efficiency, while also promoting collaboration among government agencies, Indigenous peoples and others to create a shared ownership of fire. We commend Senator Wyden and Representative Schrier for working to improve the resilience of our landscapes and communities,” said Cecilia Clavet, senior policy advisor at The Nature Conservancy.

“Our forests need urgent action on a massive scale and prescribed fire is a critical ingredient in the resilient forest recipe. The correct choice between the status quo of increasingly deadly health, community and ecological impacts of unplanned catastrophic fire, and the strategic deployment of controlled prescribed fire is clear,” said Leslie Jones, Sr. Vice President for Policy at American Forests. “The National Prescribed Fire Act provides our land managers with the tools and resources needed to engage communities and build resilient forests.”

Severe wildfire is a growing reality that we must address, especially on the West Coast where catastrophic wildfires have devastated lives, communities and forests. Controlled burns are an important part of a larger strategy to better manage public lands for forest health, resilience and fire risk. Because wildfire crosses boundaries – decisions about how to manage public forests impacts neighboring private forests and communities. As a private landowner and neighbor to federal forests – we support this legislation that would promote this science-based and historically utilized practice as a tool to better manage our public lands,” said Weyerhaeuser Vice President of Corporate and Government Affairs Kristen Sawn.

The National Prescribed Fire Act is also endorsed by the National Alliance of Forest Owners, Weyerhaeuser, Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife, National Association of State Foresters, The Nature Conservancy, Vaagen Timbers, National Council of County Association Executives, Western Environmental Law Center, American Forests, Intertribal Timber Council and more.