May 10, 2018

Wyden, Gardner Press Forest Service, Interior Department on Air Tanker Readiness to Fight Fires this Summer


Washington, D.C. – Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., today pressed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Acting Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen to ensure air tankers are available to fight what the agencies are predicting will be another significant fire season facing western communities this year.

At a fire briefing this morning at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, agency officials said westerners should be prepared for an “above normal” fire year.

“There is a real sense in the West that we’re finally getting on with what we need to do. And in a few weeks, we should have a plan from the Forest Service for how the agency will address the fire prevention backlog,” Wyden said. “Last week, Oregonians in rural parts of our state told me they’re concerned there won’t be enough air tankers to stop the spread of fires this summer. That’s why I pressed Secretary Perdue, Secretary Zinke and Acting Forest Service Chief Christiansen about what they’re doing to ensure air tankers are available when the blazes start.”

“There has been significant progress made by both Congress and the Administration to enact policies that protect our communities from wild fires,” Gardner said. “Unfortunately, with a huge buildup of dead trees from years of mismanagement and an extremely dry year facing much of the west, the fires are still going to come. I had positive conversations earlier today with Secretary Perdue, Secretary Zinke, and Forest Service leadership, relaying our communities’ emphasis of the importance of the availability of air tankers to quickly and effectively respond to the fires that we will face this year.”

According to the Forest Service, this summer is expected to be warmer and drier than average.

Last year’s record-breaking fire season cost the Forest Service $2.4 billion. In March, Congress passed into law a long-term, bipartisan funding solution to stabilize the Forest Service budget. The fire fix ends the backwards practice of “fire borrowing,” allowing the agency to restart many of the fire prevention projects that have been delayed by uncertain funding from longer, hotter fire years.