Murkowski’s Work Boosts Wildfire Prevention, Suppression Efforts

Interior Appropriations Bill Protects Alaskans and our Land

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Through her work as Chairman of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) worked to fully fund wildfire suppression needs to ensure the safety of Alaskans and our resources. The Fiscal Year 2017 Interior appropriations bill contains several provisions that directly meet Alaska’s needs – providing the resources necessary to combat wildfires, funding to address preventative wildfire measures, and promoting responsible public lands management. The bill  also boosts the ailing timber industry in Southeast Alaska, directs the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to clean up abandoned legacy wells drilled in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) at the direction of the federal government, and provides funding to improve mapping in Alaska.

“Last year Alaska endured one of the worst wildfire seasons on record. Given warm temperatures, lack of rain, and low snowpack, this year has the potential to be even worse - posing a significant threat to life, property, and ecosystems throughout our state. We need to provide firefighters and forest managers the tools and the resources they need to keep Alaskans safe and protect our land. That means not only increasing their ability to fight fires, but also pre-emptively addressing contributing factors,” Senator Murkowski said. “At the same time, my bill aims to protect the struggling timber industry in Southeast Alaska by preventing a premature transition to primarily young growth harvesting in the Tongass and directing the Forest Service to issue new timber sales.”

Wildfire Prevention and Suppression

Murkowski’s bill fully funds our nation’s wildfire suppression efforts and effectively ends the destructive practice of “fire borrowing,” where agencies “borrow” from other non-fire accounts to fund firefighting activities. Murkowski also increased the budget for the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service for preventative measures that can be made in advance of wildfire season, such as hazardous fuels reduction and mitigation. Resources are provided for specific prevention measures like the fire break that was created on the Kenai Peninsula prior to the Funny River Fire to save homes and people.

Forest Management

This Interior bill requires the Forest Service to gather sufficient data about the timing and availability of young growth timber before finalizing any amendments to the Tongass land plan. It also directs the agency to offer timber sales in Region 10, which includes the Tongass National Forest, for the small and struggling timber industry in Southeast Alaska. In addition, the bill provides funding for the Forest Service’s recreation programs to issue additional special use permits, helping expand recreation-based businesses in the Chugach and Tongass National Forests in Alaska.

Ensuring Federal Agencies Understand Alaska

Murkowski included language in the bill report that directs the Department of the Interior (DOI) and Forest Service (FS) to conduct annual Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) training for all employees with any oversight, regulatory, or managerial duties or responsibilities for the State of Alaska. Additionally, the bill requires DOI and FS to conduct annual ANILCA training in a village within a conservation system unit for all land managers stationed within Alaska.

Legacy Wells

Murkowski’s Interior bill also provides increased funding for the BLM to clean up exploration wells drilled at the direction of the federal government in NPR-A between 1944 and 1982. While Senator Murkowski secured significant funding to clean up these abandoned wells through the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013, nearly 30 will still reportedly remain in need of remediation once that funding is exhausted. Murkowski’s bill nearly doubles the requested amount of funding for the clean-up of legacy wells, and also compels BLM to craft a long-term strategy to finally complete this effort.

Mapping Alaska’s Terrain

Murkowski’s bill includes additional funding for Alaska mapping initiatives that will help gather data to improve maps, enhancing safety for activities such as aviation. Just last August, Alaska surpassed the halfway mark in updating the state’s digital mapping and data collection. Currently much of the terrain data in Alaska is more than 50 years old and hand-sketched from photos shot from World War II reconnaissance craft.

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee controls funding levels for federal agencies and departments such as the Department of the Interior (DOI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Forest Service (FS), National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and Indian Health Service (IHS). Murkowski, as Chairman, is able to write the Senate’s annual appropriations bill for the Subcommittee.

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