Wilderness Society Praises Senator Cantwell for Focus on Wildfire

Aug 26, 2015

Rim Fire, California, 2013

Mike McMillan, US Forest Service
The Wilderness Society praised Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) today for taking steps to focus congressional and public attention on this summer’s extreme wildfire conditions in Washington and other parts of the West.

Senator Cantwell, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has scheduled a hearing in Seattle on August 27 to examine wildfire issues.  Senator John Barrasso, who chairs that committee’s Public Lands, Forests and Mining subcommittee, is also scheduled to participate in the hearing.

“We applaud Senator Cantwell for her commitment to finding effective measures and marshalling bipartisan support to address the ever-growing challenges of wildfire in the West,” said Mike Anderson, Senior Policy Analyst with The Wilderness Society.  “Senator Cantwell has long been a champion for sound conservation policies for America’s publicly owned lands.” 

The Wilderness Society also commends Senator Cantwell’s support for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015, a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). That bill would allow Congress to budget for fighting wildfires while still paying for important conservation initiatives, including wildfire mitigation programs intended to prevent future catastrophic fires. Future fires are expected to become ever more intense, in part due to worsening drought and other effects of climate change, making such a fix all the more important.

The Wilderness Society works with other groups in the Northwest to improve policies related to wildfire and is a member of The North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative, a diverse group of local stakeholders represented by timber industry, conservation groups, tribal government, elected officials, and local, state and federal land managers. The collaborative strives to advance forest health through actions that improve forest resiliency, preserve terrestrial and aquatic wildlife habitat, protect natural resources, provide recreational opportunities, promote utilization of natural resources, and support local economies in Chelan and Okanogan Counties.

Wildfire and The Wilderness Society

Wildfire presents management challenges to many communities and government agencies in Washington and across western states.   The Wilderness Society has forestry experts, scientists and policy analysts that work to make sure that land-managing agencies have the resources they need and policies in place to deal with wildfire.  The group notes:

  • Safety and protection of life and property are the number-one priorities during a wildfire, just as they are with other natural disasters.
  • This year, for the first time ever, wildfires will consume more than half (52 percent) of the U.S. Forest Service annual budget, a serious tipping point.  In 1991, wildfires represented just 13 percent of the Forest Service budget.
  • Due to climate change and other factors, agencies responsible for managing public lands now face a wildfire season that is 60-80 days longer than it was three decades ago, and these fires now burn twice as many acres. 
  • If funding wildfire suppression used the same budget mechanism as other natural disasters, that would alleviate the fiscal burden our land agencies face.
  • Focusing fuel-reduction efforts around homes and communities will help protect people and property, and leave critical dollars in agency coffers to do meaningful, long-term restoration that will better protect our recreational areas, drinking water and wildlife.
  • The Wilderness Society is working with the North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative to help the Forest Service increase the pace and scale of active restoration – including commercial thinning – in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

The Wilderness Society is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 700,000 members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org

Contacts:  Mike Anderson, Senior Policy Analyst, mike_anderson@tws.org, 206-890-3529;  Ben Greuel, Washington State Program Director, benjamin_greuel@tws.org, 360- 670-2938