Today, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to examine State and Federal wildland fire management programs. Senator Manchin, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, questioned witnesses about forest management strategies and the impact they have on wildfires.
"I am seeking solutions that will bring people together, rather than solutions that drive people apart," Senator Manchin said.
"We are seeing larger fires across the landscape more year round. We've seen fires start earlier in the calendar year, they start later in the calendar year and they burn more acres. We've know that since 1970. I believe the authorities you all have given us within this agency: that we can continue to work across boundaries with shared stewardship, 20 year stewardship contracts and continue to move forward on those authorities to not just timber removal but hazardous fuels removal and thinning and prescribed burning across the country. It takes time to get there," said Mrs. Shawna Legarza, Director of Fire Aviation and Management at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
"The Forest Service only conducts prescribed burns on two million acres per year but then you have to pay to suppress wildfires on ten million acres. Why wouldn't you do more controlled burns?" Senator Manchin asked.
"Actually last year we did just under two million prescribed burn acres--[more] than we've done in a long time. So we've really started to ramp that up. The challenges with controlled burns or prescribed burns is that there is a prescription we have to follow. The air temperature, the moisture, the fuels, where the smoke goes during the burn, after the burn, and the backlog we have from some of the CE's for NEPA that we're working on," Mrs. Legarza said.
"We know it has worked in the past, we know it could work. We see the results of not suppressing and not being proactive. What more can we do to allow you be proactive versus reactive," Senator Manchin asked.
"There has been an alignment of all stakeholder communities. There are a whole lot of environmental conservation groups that understand active management of the forest is essential because these big mega fires destroy habitat. There is an emerging consensus that public-private partnerships in forests are important," said Honorable Wade Crowfoot, California Natural Resources Agency Secretary.
The hearing also featured testimony from representatives from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Association of State Foresters