Cantwell, Murray, Risch, Wyden, Crapo, Merkley Introduce Bipartisan Compromise to Fight Record-Breaking Wildfires

Bill will foster rural jobs restoring forests and help make communities safer

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the wake of another historic wildfire season, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and a bipartisan group of Western Senators introduced a common-sense bill to better prepare for and prevent costly wildfires while supporting rural jobs restoring forests.

The Wildland Fires Act of 2017 will help further the Federal and State firefighting agencies’ “National Cohesive Fire Strategy” by authorizing additional funding for at-risk communities and directing Federal agencies to treat their most-at-risk forests to better protect communities and to reestablish natural fire regimes. 

In addition, the bill will provide stability to companies involved in restoration projects on Federal land, particularly those focused on cross-laminated timber. Several cross-laminated timber companies have recently expressed interest in developing businesses throughout Washington state.

 “It's time to create new tools to reduce fire risk and help better protect our communities‎,” said Senator Maria Cantwell.  “By targeting our most vulnerable pine forests, this science-based pilot program gives the Forest Service tools to address wildfire in our most vulnerable forests and prioritizes cross-laminated timber.”

“We can’t sit by and let devastating wildfires become the new normal,” said Senator Patty Murray. “It’s time to invest in proactive measures that will help protect communities in Washington state and around the West and save taxpayer dollars. This legislation is a strong step forward in that effort.”

Specifically, this bill:

  • Directs the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to provide up to $100 million in funding to at-risk communities to plan and prepare for wildfires;
  • Authorizes longer-term contracts to provide stability to companies involved in restoration projects on Federal land, and gives a preference for companies that will use forest products to create mass timber, e.g., cross-laminated timber.
  • Establishes a pilot program that directs the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to treat their top 1% most-at-risk, least-controversial lands over the next 10 years (and in doing so install fuel breaks in the wildland-urban interface and, outside of the WUI, conduct prescribed fires); and
  • Authorizes the Federal agencies to re-purpose unused wildfire suppression funds to conduct preparedness projects to get ahead of the problem;

In addition to Sens. Cantwell and Murray, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Risch (R-ID), Wyden (D-OR), Crapo (R-ID), and Merkley (D-OR).

"When it comes to wildfire, the one thing we can affect is fuel. By significantly improving the pace and scale of thinning and other collaborative forest restoration efforts, we can have positive impacts on our forests, environment, and communities," said Russ Vaagen, CEO of Vaagen Timbers in Colville.

“Senator Cantwell has been a national leader in pushing for real forest management reforms that will improve forest health and resiliency, provide renewable materials for domestic manufacturing, and create jobs in hard hit rural communities throughout the West,” said Travis Joseph, President of American Forest Resource Council.  “The Wildland Fires Act of 2017 is a thoughtful response to our nation’s public forest health crisis – including this year’s devastating fire season that filled our air with toxic smoke and scorched millions of acres of forests.  We look forward to working with Senator Cantwell and her colleagues in the Senate to pass meaningful forestry reform legislation this year.”

“The IAFC thanks Senator Cantwell for her continued leadership in fighting wildland fires in Washington and across the United States. This important legislation will provide additional resources and funding to protect at-risk communities and assist federal agencies in developing risk assessments and preparedness programs. The IAFC is pleased to support this legislation and encourages Congress to pass it quickly,” said Fire Chief Thomas Jenkins, President and Chairman of the Board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

“This bill does more to address the genuine problems than any bill we’ve seen to date,” said Mitch Friedman, Executive Director of Conservation Northwest. “Its emphasis on using prescribed fire is firmly rooted in science.”

“As record megafires continue to rage in the West, we absolutely must accelerate the restoration of our National Forests and reduce threats to local communities and wildlife,” said Collin O’Mara, President & CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Senator Cantwell’s bipartisan, common-sense legislation focuses forest restoration work where it can have the greatest and most immediate impact, with the least controversy. It will improve the quality and pace of forest restoration, help increase wildlife populations, and enhance watershed health—all of which will improve forest health and mitigate fire risks.”

"With limited federal dollars and even less time available to help forests adapt to ongoing climate change, we cannot afford to go backwards by resurrecting logging policies of the past that are part of the problems affecting firefighters’ abilities to safely manage wildfires of the present.  We must utilize the best ecological fire science to target treatments where they will address the greatest risks to people with the least impacts to ecosystems, and above all include fire as both a means and an ends of restoration projects,” said Timothy Ingalsbee, executive director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology (FUSEE).

Find bill text for the Wildfires Management Act of 2017 here.  

Find a section-by-section summary of the bill here