Smoke on the Horizon: IAFC Pushes for Congressional Action on Wildland-Fire Issues

Though it's only April and the wildland fire season has yet to come into full swing in many regions, Congress has been considering a variety of issues related to wildland firefighting. If your service area faces the threat of outdoor fires or is located in the wildland-urban interface, you need to be aware of these congressional efforts.

Since 2009, the federal-level Wildland Fire Leadership Council has led the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, a three-phase effort to unite federal, state, local and nongovernmental organizations in their efforts to address the problem of wildland fire in the United States. In June 2012, the Cohesive Strategy published its second-phase report, which focused on developing regional goals and objectives. Work is underway on the third phase, which uses data from phase II to develop a nationwide risk-tradeoff analysis. The IAFC's Wildland Fire Policy Committee has been representing the voices of local fire chiefs throughout the process.

Once the Cohesive Strategy is finished, it will be important for you to contact your members of Congress and remind them of the need to fully implement its recommendations on a nationwide basis and to ensure the Cohesive Strategy continues to be a living document to guide wildland-fire policy decisions.

On another suppression front, through the leadership of Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), Congress has been working to address the need for a solution to the U.S. Forest Service's (USFS) challenge of having an antiquated fleet of aerial tankers. As part of the Fiscal Year 2013 Defense Authorization Act, Congress authorized USFS to receive seven excess aircraft from the U.S. Air Force (USAF).

The task now is to have the USAF identify these planes and have them declared as excess. Recently, the Intratheater Airlift Working Group (IAWG) has formally recommended the USAF retire the C-27J, which may be a strong platform to meet USFS’ needs.

However, there's been considerable opposition in Congress to this move. This makes it all the more important for you to explain to your members of Congress why these planes are so important in fighting wildland fires. With your help, the IAFC will continue fighting to have the USAF implement IAWG's recommendation and transfer these planes to USFS.

Finally, it's still important to remind your members of Congress of the important role the FLAME Fund plays in fighting wildland fires. The FLAME Fund was created in 2009 to reserve unused money from quiet wildland-fire seasons and set it aside for busy wildland-fire ones. If adequately supported, this fund prevents the need for an emergency-appropriations process when USFS finds itself unable to keep up with the amount of fire on the ground. It also protects current funding to remaining stewardship activities of the federal land-management agencies, because suppression-cost overruns brought cuts to these areas first.

In recent years, Congress has looked to decrease its support for the FLAME Fund—a move that could have disastrous results in a busy fire season to both suppression efforts and day-to-day land-management efforts. Local fire departments play a crucial role by extinguishing 97% of fires. While your department doesn’t receive FLAME funds, this funding is crucial for extinguishing the 3% of wildland fires that are the largest and most destructive and could potentially threaten your community.

The IAFC is advocating for Congress to address these issues to ensure your department has the resources it needs to protect your community from wildland fires. However, as the local fire chief, you’re the most important part of the equation; please contact your members of Congress to explain the important role these programs play in your community.

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