Cantwell to Forest Service: Wildfire Technology Critical as Fire Season Looms

Cantwell asks Forest Service Chief to speed up deployment of firefighting technology, including GPS locators, real-time maps, and drones

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing to examine the Trump administration’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget request for the Forest Service, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the committee, today emphasized the importance of funding and implementing 21st century firefighting technology as we approach another dangerous fire season.

“Obviously no one can argue that nationally and internationally, the fire seasons are with us – everywhere from Australia to Alaska,” Cantwell said to U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. “The challenge just grows every fire season, and so we definitely want you to have every tool.”

In her questions to Christiansen about the agency’s efforts to reduce fire risks for the upcoming wildfire season, Cantwell highlighted her bipartisan Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act, which was signed into law last year. The legislation increases firefighter safety by requiring the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior begin providing GPS locations for crews on wildfires and begin using Unmanned Aircraft Systems to scout out and map wildfires in real time.

“I’m pleased to see there’s $15 million in the president’s budget to implement the [Wildfire Management] Technology Advancement Act that Senator Gardner and myself pushed through, that’s everything from GPS locators to real-time fire information,” Cantwell said. “We’re just such a firm believer in this technology.”

Cantwell’s wildfire management legislation also requires smoke forecasters be assigned to all large wildfires to provide the most accurate information to those impacted.

“We’ve lost Northwest people in some significant fires over the last two decades, and we definitely would also like to see the smoke forecasters on the ground in those situations, because we think that is critical as well,” Cantwell continued.

Senator Cantwell has always been a strong advocate for improving wildfire response to protect firefighters and communities. In December, she worked with her colleagues to secure a $1.6 billion increase in funding for wildland management, and in 2018 she secured passage of language to fix the chronic failures in wildfire funding that had long plagued fire-prone communities across the west. She has repeatedly called on officials to make combating wildfires and protecting firefighters a top priority.

Video of Cantwell’s questions to Christiansen is available HERE, and audio can be found HERE.

B-Roll footage of Senator Cantwell attending a recent wildfire technology expo is available HERE, and photos of a recent visit to the Spokane Fire Training Center can be found HERE.