Cantwell Joins Secretary Perdue to Lay Out New Vision for Addressing Wildfires

Cantwell: We want every tool possible to increase forest restoration and to get firefighters the technology, resources they need

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, joined Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and bipartisan colleagues to unveil a new federal plan for addressing wildfires.  Senator Cantwell highlighted projects in Washington state, including in Stevens County and Walla Walla, to show the benefits of science-driven approaches to reducing the risks from wildfires using new local coordination, technology, and funding.

Senator Cantwell focused her remarks on increased collaboration between state and federal partners, as well as making sure firefighters and communities have every tool and resource possible to increase their safety and effectiveness.

Earlier this year, Senator Cantwell ensured the bipartisan budget bill included legislation to fix chronic failures in wildfire funding and secured a commitment from Secretary Perdue and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to use unmanned aircraft technology this fire season.

Senator Cantwell’s full remarks are below.

*** USDA’s full strategy can be viewed HERE *** 

*** Video from today’s event is HERE (20:06) ***

Senator Cantwell Remarks

Secretary Perdue – “New Strategy for Improving Forest Conditions”

August 16, 2018

Senator Cantwell:  Thank you Senator Wyden. It’s so good to be here with our colleagues from the Senate, Senator Murkowski and you Senator Wyden and Mr. Secretary so good to be with you today while you make this announcement and you Ms. Christiansen who is leading this effort from the Forest Service, so appreciative, and our new State forester.

We are here today because a few months ago, the U.S. Congress gave the Secretary of Agriculture and the Forest Service new tools to help fight fires. The advent of that has now been that they have come up with a new vision of how there implementing those new tools and it couldn’t come at a more important time. We’ve lost ten thousand homes in just the last year and wildfires have killed 43 people.

So we need to use the new tools, and we certainly need a new vision, and we certainly need to further cooperation by all entities. Why? Because the challenges we face with a changing climate and more dire conditions are allowing for more fire starts and more, in terms of, volume in the types of fires that are burning all across the west.

My colleagues and I have done a great job communicating to you what it’s like in the West right now.  This has become the new normal. The new normal is small communities trying to fight fires with as many resources as they can but as their neighboring communities are also fighting the fires, sometimes they feel like they don’t have adequate resources. And we have communities that now, as my colleague from Oregon said, well… it seems like the new normal is a summer of smoke that just is becoming a huge health risk.

So we have to do more to reduce the risk and that is what the Secretary’s vision and Ms. Christianson’s vision does. It is about ensuring that we have efforts to scale, and face the real science around this problem, help our at-risk communities respond, and make sure our firefighters have adequate resources so they can be as safe as possible. Just this past week, a drone was used to identify a new spot fire right behind where firefighters were fighting so they were alerted to the potential danger and risk of that fire coming up behind them.

We want every tool possible used that was authorized in the Omnibus bill, but what the Secretary’s vision does is to continue to spread the new technologies, but also the management. The concept is to do more fuel reduction. Use your resources to make sure that the collaborative efforts to reduce fuel are being prioritized. Those priorities. I so appreciate Mr. Secretary because you are looking at where the largest risks are to communities—in the urban-interface of our forests. Your vision includes trying to help the city of Walla Walla, which was concerned about its drinking water. For the Umatilla National Forest, the potential threat of fires there would impact the watershed. It is such an important watershed for that region.

Or in the Northeast corner of our state… what’s called (the Colville National Forest project), now called the “Chewelah A-to-Z” project, is really about trying to create more fuel reduction—to protect the city of Spokane from devastation if a fire approaches from the North. 

So this vision about putting these tools together includes ideas.  The Pine Pilot which was just about prioritizing what many academics tell us are our most at-risk forests. Literally, those are the ones that are going to burn. So that fuel instead would help store that carbon… and I will point out that Spokane just announced one of the first blocks of net zero CLT building. So people are trying to do the smartest things to help us reduce the fuel and build smarter. And your new stewardship contracts will give foresters and the mills better certainty about their supply, which I think will help us in the future as well.

So thank you for putting this plan in place and thank you for being aggressive on coordination. Our best thing we can do is work together on hasty response. Putting the fires out now as soon as they start so that they don’t grow in the future. We do have a new normal, and we have to meet it with a very, very aggressive response. Thank you.