tree fire

California ranchers and agencies are working to combat wildfires in the state. Pictured here, the August Complex Fire in the Mendocino National Forest. The fires within the complex ignited Aug. 16 and as of Nov. 4 had burned over 1 million acres and was 93 percent contained.

Last fall, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced legislation to help prevent destructive wildfires by supporting prescribed fire burning. The bill, National Prescribed Fire Act of 2020, was referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in September and a hearing was held on the bill in mid-November by the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining.

Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-WV), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Dianna Feinstein (D-CA) signed onto the bill as cosponsors.

“Congress must make a serious investment in hazardous fuels management by increasing the pace and scale of controlled burns, creating a technically skilled preseason controlled burn workforce, and streamlining smoke regulations in winter months to reduce catastrophic fires and smoke in the summer,” a one-page summary of the bill said.

The bill would establish $300 million accounts for the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior to plan and conduct controlled burns on federal, state and private lands. It would also establish a $10 million collaborative program to implement controlled burns at high risk of burning in a wildfire.

In addition, the legislation would establish an incentive program to provide funding to agencies for large-scale burns, as well as a workforce development program to develop, train, and hire prescribed fire practitioners.

The act would also 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.

“The wildland firefighters I’ve spoken with would rather have that acre burn in the cooler, wetter months, with firefighters at the ready, rather than scrambling to fight a wildfire that ignites on the hottest, driest, windiest days of the year, in the backyard of our rural neighborhoods,” Wyden said in the subcommittee hearing.

The Department of the Interior has expressed its support for the bill and plans to move forward with the committee to work on adjustments within the text to facilitate the use of prescribed fire and other reduction measures. — Anna Miller, WLJ editor



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