Cantwell Bill to Modernize Firefighting Technology Passes Committee

Today, at a business meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell — the committee’s top Democrat —  secured passage of her bipartisan Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act. The bill passed through committee unanimously. 

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), increases the use of technology to keep firefighters and communities safe, better reduce the risks from wildfires, and increase the effectiveness of wildfire response. 

“We owe it to the brave men and women who risk their lives to fight wildfires to equip them with the best available technology, to keep them safe, and to ensure their efforts are effective,” said Cantwell in her opening statement before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. 

Included in the bill are measures to increase firefighter safety by providing crews on wildfires with GPS locators and using Unmanned Aircraft Systems to scout out and map wildfires in real-time. Wildfire Today refers to the simultaneous use of mapping aircraft and GPS locators as the ‘Holy Grail’ of firefighter safety. The bill also helps protect families and communities by assisting with smoke forecasting and planning for the impacts of smoke from wildfires.

The bill also increases collaboration across government agencies to better strategically plan and stage resources before wildfires occur. Specifically, the bill directs the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service to work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and U.S. National Labs, such as the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, to better predict the areas most likely to experience large wildfires during fire season, enhancing our ability to plan. 

This legislation also takes aim at preventing erosion and landslides that can occur after wildfires by authorizing disaster agencies to make use of NASA’s tools to speed-up the installation of post-fire, erosion-prevention measures, such as the seeding of recently-burnt areas. 

In addition to the use of advanced technology, the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act requires that trends in firefighter injuries be analyzed in order to target training to prevent future injuries and fatalities. 

Earlier this year, Senator Cantwell led a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers to enact the largest package of forestry and wildfire legislation in 15 years. Cantwell’s bill established a contingency account for funding the fighting of wildfires in bad years and helped secure over $2 billion in yearly funding for the account for each of the next 10 years. The funding will allow the Forest Service to end its practice of borrowing funds to fight wildfires from much-needed restoration work, freeing up over $100 million for fire risk projects, including thinning.