Murkowski: Fire Season Highlights Need for Legislative Solution for Wildfire Funding and Forest Management Reforms

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today chaired a hearing to conduct oversight of the nation’s wildfire management programs and the use of emerging technologies to mitigate wildfire risk. She also reiterated her call for Congress to pass legislation that both ends fire borrowing and makes long-overdue forest management reforms. 

“Wildfires continue to be a growing crisis and are destroying lands across our country,” Murkowski said. “As of August 1, nearly 39,000 fires had burned almost 5.5 million acres of land. For comparison’s sake, that’s an area nearly the size of New Hampshire.”

Among the witnesses who testified at today’s hearing was Chris Maisch, the State Forester for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, who also spoke on behalf of the National Association of State Foresters. 

“Alaskans, in particular, know how devastating wildfires can be,” Murkowski said. “More than 300 fires have so far burned about 630,000 acres this season alone. That’s below normal, but still significant. Just two years ago, more than five million acres burned in my home state. And we know what needs to be done—we need more fuel treatments and fuel breaks to reduce fire risk to our communities and firefighters.”         

Murkowski spoke about the hard work the committee has done to craft bipartisan legislation to address the consequences of wildfire. Last Congress, Murkowski, Ranking Member Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho put forward a discussion draft called the “Wildfire Budgeting, Response, and Forest Management Act.”                                                  

“What we need is a comprehensive solution that addresses both wildfire budgeting and forest management,” Murkowski reiterated. “We need to tackle both of those, at once, because we know the wildfire problem is not just a budgeting problem—it’s also a management problem.”

The draft proposal would have permanently ended the destructive practice of fire borrowing, removed hurdles to put more preventative measures in place to reduce the risk of wildfires, authorized programs to fire-adapt vulnerable communities, and improved forest management in Alaska and across the nation. 

“Today’s hearing focused on treatments to change wildfire behavior and the use of technologies such as drones, GPS trackers, and fire risk mapping to make firefighting safer and more effective,” Murkowski concluded. “Our goal in this Congress is to pass a good bill that will address all of these issues because there is a lot more that we can do, from budgeting to new technologies to better management practices, to save communities and protect landscapes.”

In May, Murkowski ensured that the FY 2017 omnibus appropriations bill funded our nation’s wildfire suppression efforts by providing the full 10-year average and includes additional emergency funds that will be available in the event of a catastrophic fire season. The omnibus also increased funding for preventative measures that can be taken in advance of wildfire season, such as hazardous fuels reduction and mitigation. Outside of the appropriations process, Murkowski has led the Senate’s effort to enact stand-alone wildfire budgeting and forestry management legislation based on her recognition of the need for long-term fixes. 

Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the Interior-EPA Appropriations Subcommittee. An archived video and testimony from today’s hearing are available on the committee’s website. Click here and here to view both rounds of her questions for witnesses.

Related Issues: Energy