Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner requested more funding to modernize firefighting technology for the U.S. Forest Service in letters sent to Senate committees Nov. 2, citing the devastating wildfires in Colorado this past year.
The two senators joined the bipartisan effort led by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, that said there is a need for a modern, large air-tanker and water-scooper fleet, a technology they called in a statement “one of the most effective immediate responses to limit the expansion of wildfires.” The call for funding was included in letters to the Senate Committee on Appropriations leadership and the U.S. Forest Service.
“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 senators wrote in the letters. “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.”
Bennet and Gardner said in a joint news release Nov. 2 that the available aircraft flying the wildfire suppression missions are retired ex-military or ex-civil aircraft that were repurposed for air tanker operations and they are “outdated and limited in number.”
The call for funding is a continuation of an effort to improve funding for the Forest Service. In March, Bennet and Gardner helped lead an effort to pass a bipartisan funding solution to stabilize the Forest Service budget that also ended “fire borrowing,” a practice in which the agency raids its own budget to fight massive wildfires, leaving less money for prevention.
Gardner also introduced the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act of 2017, which advanced out of committee in the beginning of October. The bill focused on safety of firefighters during wildfires by requiring the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to provide GPS locations for crews and to use Unmanned Aircraft Systems to scout and map wildfires.
Emily Martin is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.