Cantwell, Colleagues Call for Additional Funding to Ensure Effective Responses to Massive Wildfires

Lawmakers request FY 2019 funding for much needed air tanker procurement to fight unprecedentedly large fires

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Ron Wyden (D-RD), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and a bipartisan group of her colleagues in requesting funding to modernize firefighting assets so the U.S. Forest Service can more effectively respond in a cost-effective manner to devastating wildfires. 

The senators, in letters to Senate Committee on Appropriations leadership and the U.S. Forest Service, highlight the need for a modern, highly capable large air tanker and water-scooper fleet—proven to be one of the most effective immediate responses to limit the expansion of wildfires into uncontrollable mega-fires. The available aircraft flying this mission today continue to be retired ex-military/ex-civil aircraft, repurposed for air tanker operations and flown by small private contract firms. 

“The intensity and duration of the past successive fire seasons confirm the reality that the wildfire suppression workload has grown in severity and complexity due to hotter, longer burning seasons and the expanding wildland-urban interface,” the lawmakers wrote. “These factors will only worsen future wildfire disasters so it is time that Congress and the executive branch proactively upgrade firefighting assets in order to protect the lives and property in communities facing these massive wildfires.” 

Earlier this year, Cantwell called on the head of the U.S. Forest Service and a top official from the Department of the Interior to increase the use of wildfire fighting technology and underscored the importance of air tankers and water scoopers in fighting wildfires across the west. She also demanded that the agencies do more to increase the safety and effectiveness of our wildland firefighters. 

In March, 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 8 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. 

In addition to Senators Cantwell, Wyden, and Crapo, Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jim Risch (R-ID), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Cory Gardner (R-CO) signed the letters. 

A copy of the letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Vickie Christiansen can be found HERE. 

A copy of the letter to Senate Committee on Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy and Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, & Related Agencies Chairman Lisa Murkowski and Ranking Member Tom Udall can be found HERE.