WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul A. Gosar D.D.S. (AZ-04), Executive Vice-Chairman Scott Tipton (CO-03), Chief Rules Officer Dan Newhouse (WA-04) and Chairman Emeritus Steve Pearce (NM-02), Western Caucus members Reps. Kurt Schrader (OR-05), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05), Greg Walden (OR-02), Greg Gianforte (MT-AT Large), Doug Lamborn (CO-05), Mike Coffman (CO-06), Raul R. Labrador (ID-01), Liz Cheney (WY-At Large), Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Paul Cook (CA-08), David Valadao (CA-21) and Aumua Amata Radewagen (AS-At Large), and Member of Congress Reps. Jim Costa (CA-16) released the following statements applauding Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney’s October 4, 2017 letter to Speaker Paul Ryan requesting that Congress pass forestry management reform and wildfire disaster relief packages:
“Today, we all should thank my friend and former colleague OMB Director Mulvaney for his quick work addressing the funding crisis at the United States Forest Service,” said Chairman Gosar. “Because of the unprecedented wildfire season this year, USFS once again was forced to raid its accounts in order to supplement its fire suppression operations. The root cause of this crisis is unacceptable, but swift intervention to right the ship was also needed. Today at 1:00pm, 31 Members of Congress and I submitted a letter to OMB requesting action on wildfires. By 5:30pm, the Administration released its supplemental disaster relief request and provided $576.5 million for wildfires and recommended active management reforms. OMB and President Trump came through in a big way for Western communities that have been ravaged by catastrophic wildfires. Now Congress must show real leadership and put H.R. 2936 on President Trump’s desk - bipartisan legislation that adopts forward-thinking active management strategies as well as allocation reforms that will cease the practice of fire borrowing.”
“I commend Director Mulvaney for recognizing the devastating impacts that wildfires have caused in communities across the West, and I look forward to working with him and my colleagues in Congress to advance policies that support forest health,” stated Congressman Tipton.
Congressman Newhouse said, “I applaud the administration for providing relief for devastated communities affected by this year’s historic wildfire season. I am also encouraged that the administration agrees with recommendations my colleagues and I have made to make much-needed improvements in forest management and wildfire prevention. Fixing the way we budget for wildfire suppression and reforming the broken forest management system are two sides of the same coin needed to address the threat of catastrophic wildfires. I am committed to advocating for lasting solutions so that communities like Central Washington are not faced with catastrophic wildfires year after year.”
“The proper management of forests is required to protect western communities, their economies, and the environment from catastrophic wildfires in our overgrown, dry forests,” said Congressman Pearce. Logging companies that were once significant drivers in the New Mexico economy were forced to shut down due to over-regulations and restrictions that reduced proper forest management activities. Now, we see wildfires continuously rip through the West and endanger the lives of humans, plants, animals, and destroy any possibility of species benefitting from the forest or nearby watersheds. I urge my colleagues in Congress and the Administration to join this effort to reform the management practices of our nations’ forests to ensure that we use resources and funds efficiently while protecting human lives and conserving the environment.
Congressman Schrader said, “Fixing the way we pay for wildfire suppression and prevention has been one of my legislative priorities since coming into federal office over eight years ago,” said Congressman Kurt Schrader. “For the past three Congresses, I’ve introduced a bipartisan bill to put an end to the practice of fire-borrowing. I am very pleased that this Administration is treating this disaster with the seriousness it deserves. We have a long way to go in the work to curb wildfires and the devastation they inflict, but this announcement is an encouraging step forward.”
“Wildfires deserve the same consideration as other natural disasters, and I’m grateful for the Administration’s attention to the disasters in the West. Wildfires threaten our lives and create hazardous health conditions in our communities. This additional funding underscores the need to fix fire borrowing and reform the way we manage our forests,” said Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers.
Congressman Walden stated, “I want to thank the Trump Administration for their request for funds to cover the costs of this fire season, as well as their call for Congress to reform our broken federal forest policy that hinders them from implementing much needed forest management. Another fire season winds down and, once again, the Forest Service needed to rob money from important fire prevention work to pay for fighting wildfires. We must not only supplement those accounts to pay for the cost of this fire season, but it’s past time that we fix how we pay for fires and treat them like the natural disasters they are. We also need to streamline our federal forest policy so forest managers can get the much needed fire prevention work done to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire that choke our skies and communities with smoke. I look forward to working with the administration and my colleagues in the House to improve forest management and prevent catastrophic wildfire.”
“I appreciate that the president recognizes how wildfires have ravaged Montana. After visiting fire sites throughout the summer and seeing the devastation firsthand, I have advocated federal relief for Montana. This is a great first step so that we can begin to recover and rebuild,” Gianforte said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure Montana receives the aid we need and to enact meaningful forest management reforms to improve the health of our forests and reduce the severity of future wildfires,” said Congressman Gianforte.
“Our beautiful lands can be restored with the help of this funding. I’m encouraged to see this investment in our communities for the betterment of the world around us. Management of the West’s forests is a difficult but commendable job and I am thankful for the men and women who fight wildfires,” said Congressman Lamborn.
Congressman Coffman stated, “The administration’s announcement is a positive step toward more effective management of our forests and we in Colorado welcome the prioritization of fire prevention.”
“I welcome the Administration’s supplemental budget request that recognizes the wildfire crisis,” said Congressman Labrador. “Finally, our government is acknowledging what we in the West have known for years: Addressing wildfire requires both active forest management and reforming firefighting budgeting. I’ve long advocated this dual approach and look forward to working with the Administration to address this issue.”
“President Trump took an important step towards addressing the increasing threat of wildfires throughout the West today. The funding requested by the administration is critical to support our brave firefighters who battle wildfires in Wyoming. Congress must work to quickly pass legislation to provide the funding requested by the Trump Administration, and we must also implement the reforms called for by the President, like those in H.R. 2936, the Resilient Federal Forests Act, that will help reduce the frequency and severity of wildfires in the West,” said Congresswoman Cheney.
Congressman LaMalfa said, “I’ve been pushing the federal government for wildfire prevention reform for many years. It’s a fixable problem with a very clear cause – mismanagement has left our forests highly susceptible to catastrophic wildfires that are spreading at a record rate. Fire prevention, such as thinning dead trees and removing hazardous fuel, has taken a backseat while we spend billions to suppress fires only after they’ve gotten out of hand. These wildfires are every bit the natural disasters that hurricanes are, yet they receive only a fraction of the funding. They destroy property, hurt rural economies, and are a constant danger to human life, wildlife, and their habitat – but it can all be mitigated with better forest management practices. I and many others have fought for these reforms for a long time. I’m glad to see the Administration is listening to the concerns of those who are affected by these fires and has shown a willingness to work with Congress to fix it.”
Congressman Cook said, “Wildfire funding is crucial to dealing with the constant deadly threat of wildfires in districts like mine, and I’ve long been an advocate for reforms and improved funding. You can only watch so many California fires take lives, destroy homes, and create untold environmental damage before you demand changes in our wildfire policy and budgeting. This administration takes the threat seriously, and I commend them for it. This is long overdue.”
“Catastrophic wildfires put the environment, wildlife, property, and human life at risk,” stated Congressman Valadao. “We must rethink the way we approach fire suppression efforts and provide our federal agencies with the tools and resources needed to implement successful management strategies. Judicious funding combined with commonsense reforms such as those included in H.R. 2936, the Resilient Federal Forests Act and H.R. 2862, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, will assist federal agencies in effectively preventing the occurrence and spread of wildfires.”
“In a sobering anniversary this past week, American Samoans remembered the devastating 2009 tsunami on our shores, and our thoughts are with everyone this year displaced by wildfires or hurricanes,” said Congresswoman Aumua Amata. “I welcome this priority on funding for preparation and research that can help save lives and reduce extreme damages.”
“We must treat wildfires like the natural disaster they are and stop the never-ending cycle of taking money needed for forest management to suppress wildfires. The Office of Management and Budget’s request for additional funds to suppress wildfires is an important step forward. But we must improve our ability to engage in vital forest management practices. That means ending the transfer of forest management dollars to pay for wildfire suppression. Congress must act to provide the money to ensure good forest management practices in the future,” concluded Congressman Costa.
Today, 32 members of Congress sent Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney a letter ask that the Administration send Congress a proposal that includes comprehensive forest management and wildland fire budgeting reforms as part of the next disaster relief request as soon as possible.
In the letter the members pointed out the horrific wildfire season and mismanagement by the federal government has left our forests vulnerable to insects and disease and ripe for catastrophic wildfires. The letter point out that the system is broken, that we need forest management reforms and that we need them now. The letter asked Director Mulvaney to work with Congress to help to fix the way we manage our forests and how we pay for wildfire disasters.
32 members of Congress signed the letter including: Mark Amodei, Paul Cook, Jim Costa, Kevin Cramer, Rick Crawford, Tom Emmer, Chuck Fleischmann, John Garamendi, Greg Gianforte, Paul Gosar, Jaime Herrera Beutler, Raul Labrador, Doug LaMalfa, Doug Lamborn, Mia Love, Tom McClintock, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Martha McSally, Dan Newhouse, Kristi Noem, Steve Pearce, Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, Kurt Schrader, Mike Simpson, Jason Smith, Chris Stewart, Scott Tipton, David G. Valadao, Greg Walden, Mimi Walters, Bruce Westerman, Don Young.
To read the full letter from 32 members of the House to Director Mulvaney click HERE
At, 5:30 p.m. OMB Director Mulvaney and the White House sent Congress a supplemental disaster relief request seeking “$12.77 billion to find additional response and initial recovery needs in wake of the hurricanes” as well as “$576.5 million to support heroic firefighting efforts” that are necessary as a disastrous wildfire season caused “the U.S. Forest Service to exhaust its entire 2017 wildland suppression budget authority in September, forcing it to fund additional operations from its non-fire accounts."
In his request, Director Mulvaney also pointed out that “Active forest management and other reforms must be part of the solution to curb the cost and destruction of wildfires” and pledged to work with Congress to develop a long-term solution.
To read Director Mulvaney’s letter and the full supplemental disaster relief request click HERE
As of this morning, the National Interagency Fire Center reports
that there have been 50,018 fires that burned 8,426,984 acres so far in 2017. The Forest Service has already spent more than $2.3 billion on suppression costs this fiscal year alone - a new record.
According to the Forest Service another 60-80 million acres throughout the country are currently considered high risk. The House Committee on Natural Resources reports that in 2016, wildfires destroyed 4,312 structures, including 3,192 residences.
Mismanagement has left our forests vulnerable to insects and disease and ripe for catastrophic wildfires. The system is broken. We need forest management reforms, and we need them now.
The Forest Service only harvested 2.5 billion board feet in 2016 compared to over 10 billion board feet in 1990. Hazardous fuels are estimated to be accumulating three times as fast as they can be treated. This is a treatable problem, and one which we understand the causes of very well. The Forest Service’s own Fuel Treatment Effective Database reports that “over 90 percent of the fuel treatments were effective in changing fire behavior and/or helping with control of the wildfire.”
Unfortunately, federal land management agencies have failed to recognize this correlation and timber harvests are down 80 percent over the last 30 years. Such flawed thinking also negatively impacts education and local communities as historically 25 percent of the receipts from all timber harvested by the federal government go toward schools and important infrastructure projects.
Eight times in the last twelve years, the Forest Service has moved funds from other operating accounts to fight fire, depleting accounts for forest management in the process that would help prevent catastrophic wildfires. This flawed approach causes us to spend billions of dollars on the backend to suppress fire, neglecting fire prevention and putting our communities at increasing risk of catastrophic fire.
Catastrophic fires also cause significant damage to the environment. Robust data from NASA has concluded that one catastrophic wildfire can emit more carbon emissions in a few days than total vehicle emissions in an entire state over the course of a year. As a result of recent wildfires, Seeley Lake, Montana set a record for the worst air quality ever recorded there - 18 times greater than EPA’s safe particle limit. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce recently reported, “In 2005 alone, wildfires resulted in more than 126 million tons of carbon dioxide in the United States.”
Healthy forest advocates support solutions like Rep. Westerman’s bipartisan H.R. 2936, Resilient Federal Forests Act and Reps. Simpson and Schrader’s bipartisan H.R. 2862, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. H.R. 2936 is comprehensive legislation that simplifies the cumbersome planning process and reduces the cost of implementing proactive forest management strategies. The bill adopts a forward-thinking, active management strategy that combats dangerous wildfires before they get started and includes reforms that would end the practice of fire borrowing. H.R. 2862 would change how we budget for the costs of suppressing catastrophic wildfires to conform to the method we use to budget for other natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornados. This reform seeks to ensure resources are available to fight catastrophic wildfires without raiding accounts that prevent these fires in the first place.
It is of the utmost urgency that the federal government adopt a forward-thinking, active management strategy that combats dangerous wildfires before they get started. Thinning overgrown forests and removing hazardous fuels creates jobs and increases overall forest health.