Reps. Schrier, Simpson, Schrader Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Mitigate Wildfires & Protect Forests

May 20, 2021
Press Release
U.S. Senators Wyden and Cantwell have introduced a Senate version

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Representatives Kim Schrier, M.D. (WA-08), Mike Simpson (ID-02), and Kurt Schrader (OR-05) introduced the National Prescribed Fire Act of 2021 to protect our communities from the catastrophic effects of wildfires. This bipartisan bill would invest in hazardous fuels management by increasing the pace and scale of prescribed burns, create a technically skilled preseason controlled burn workforce, and streamline smoke regulations in winter months to reduce catastrophic fires and smoke in the summer.

“With each successive year, wildfires have gotten worse throughout the West, destroying our communities and public lands. This year, there have already been more than 200 fires in Washington State, and wildfire season has only just begun,” said Rep. Schrier. “During the off-season, it is crucial that we work to mitigate the potential for future wildfire and improve forest health in order to protect our communities. That’s why I’m so proud to partner with Senator Wyden to introduce legislation to support pre-fire season controlled burns as an essential, science-based strategy for reducing hazardous fuels to mitigate the worst effects of wildfire.”

“In Idaho we understand the impacts of catastrophic wildfire firsthand. As a member of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee and the Wildfire Caucus, providing adequate funding for both wildfire suppression and forest management has been one of my top priorities,“ said Rep. Simpson. “This bipartisan legislation is a great example of the old adage that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Over time, fuels reduction programs will pay significant dividends in the reduction of firefighting and restoration costs.“

“Failure to proactively address the health of our forests directly contributes to record breaking wildfires every year, destroying our lands and communities,” said Rep. Schrader. “Last fire season was especially destructive in Western Oregon, coming at great personal losses and financial costs that could have been mitigated with more robust investments in active forest management. By implementing consistent policy around proactive fuel treatment measures like prescribed burns, the National Prescribed Wildfire Act will help us begin to tackle the current hazardous fuels backlog to reduce the number and severity of wildfires.”

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced companion legislation in the Senate today with Joe Manchin (D-W-VA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

“In this era of climate crisis, the question is not ‘if an acre of forest will burn,’ it's ‘when.’ The wildland firefighters I’ve spoken with would rather have that acre burn in the cooler, wetter months, with firefighters at the ready, rather than scrambling to fight a wildfire that ignites on the hottest, driest, windiest days of the year in the backyards of our rural neighbors,” Senator Wyden said. “Wildfire season is starting earlier, lasting longer and destroying more of our treasured natural spaces, homes and businesses, not to mention killing people trapped in the blazes. Preventative measures, like targeted controlled fires to burn off hazardous fuels, is one key tool to lessen the hurt caused by these massive fires.”

Over the last two decades, the West has experienced growing wildfire risks, with longer fire seasons and bigger and hotter fires. These blistering and massive infernos are devastating homes, businesses, livelihoods, and the economic vitality of Western communities. Scientists and environmentalists agree that pre-fire season controlled burns are an essential part of the strategy for reducing hazardous fuels to mitigate the worst effects of wildfires.

In 2018, the Forest Service determined that 234 million acres of forest are at a high risk of dangerous wildfires. Yet, controlled burns treated only 3 million acres annually during the last decade. Federal land managers should be equipped to get ahead of the problem, especially as the climate crisis worsens. Unfortunately, because vegetation grows continuously, the Forest Service will never be able to address the current hazardous fuels backlog at its current pace. Moreover, controlled burns, on average, emit one-fifth of the smoke of wildfires.

The National Prescribed Fire Act of 2021 would:

  • Establish $300 million accounts for both the Forest Service and Department of the Interior (DOI) to plan, prepare, and conduct controlled burns on federal, state, and private lands.
  • Require the Forest Service and DOI to increase the number of acres treated with controlled burns. 
  • Establish a $10 million collaborative program, based on the successful Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, to implement controlled burns on county, state and private land at high risk of burning in a wildfire. 
  • Establish an incentive program to provide funding to state, county, and federal agencies for any large-scale controlled burn. 
  • Establish a workforce development program at the Forest Service and DOI to develop, train, and hire prescribed fire practitioners, and establishes employment programs for Tribes, veterans, women, and those formerly incarcerated. 
  • Require state air quality agencies to use current laws and regulations to allow larger controlled burns, and give states more flexibility in winter months to conduct controlled burns that reduce catastrophic smoke events in the summer.

“This legislation is absolutely necessary for the well-being of our communities and economy. Wildfires are increasing in intensity, size and frequency.  We need a better approach to address their devastating impacts. Combined with forest thinning, prescribed burns can do that.  They can improve the health of our national forests and reduce the overall risk to communities affected by catastrophic wildfires. For that reason, we support this legislation,” said Chelan County Commissioners Bob Bugert, Kevin Overbay and Tiffany Gering.

“The western United States has suffered devastating wildfires for far too long. After multiple summers of the largest fires ever, the people of central Washington have helped lead the way to encourage responsible forest management practices. Prescribed fire is one of the most important factors to achieve healthier forests and to minimize risks of catastrophic wildfire. I’m thankful to Congresswoman Schrier for helping to lead the way at the federal level to reduce our wildfire risk, an effort that will require all of us working together at every level of government to address,” said Washington State Senator Brad Hawkins, District 12.

“The risk of catastrophic wildfire is present seasonally and annually across our country.  However, we do not have to concede the consequences are completely unsolvable.  The ignition of wildfire from lightning and human interaction on the landscape, combined with the health of our forests, and status of our expanding built environment, often result in devastating fire events.  We cannot stop lightning.  Human accidents will continue to happen.  Yet, we can impact the resiliency of our landscape. Treating fuels with prescribed burning reduces the fuel load in the understory of the forest canopy.  This reduced fuel load decreases the rate of spread and intensity of the fire, while potentially keeping the fire out of the forest canopy.  This reduced rate of spread and intensity is critical in providing a safe and effective fire suppression response.  The ability of fire crews to safely engage the fire directly from the ground and the air, often results in stopping the fire in the first operational period of the incident. The National Prescribed Fire Act will produce a more resilient landscape while improving response capabilities and training future fire service leaders.” said Brian Brett, Fire Chief, Chelan County Fire District #1.

“As the Fire Chief of the community with the highest wildfire threat in Washington State, I want you to know I support the National Prescribed Fire Act. As we have seen, wildfire can decimate communities both large and small and leave local areas in economic, social, and political ruin. The National Prescribed Fire Act could be the defining moment where fuel reduction on the landscape reduces our wildfire exposure immediately and into future. We are working every day to reduce the threat wildfires post to our community; bills like the National Prescribed Fire Act help us safeguard our landscape, our community, our firefighters, and our residents.” said Kelly O’Brien, Fire Chief, Chelan County Fire District #3.

“The Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce applauds Congresswoman Schrier efforts to bring every tool available to reduce catastrophic wildfires. 2015 was a wakeup call for Washington State. Unfortunately, the Wenatchee region was at the epicenter. That year, the state experienced its worst wildfire season with more than 1 million acres burned and fire spreading into the City of Wenatchee destroying businesses and livelihoods. Sadly, three firefighters lost their lives that year. Washington State again endured devastating wildfires in 2020, with more than 800,000 acres burned including the entire town of Malden. Tragically, those fires also resulted in the loss of a child’s life.  Congresswoman Schrier’s bill dovetails with the work of the Washington State Legislature and federal agencies to bring every means available to treat the unprecedented fuel buildup in our public forestlands,” said the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce. 

“Congresswoman Schrier understands that using controlled burns to restore our forests and protect communities and vulnerable populations is one of the most effective tools in the toolbox,” said Susan Jane Brown, Wildlands Program Director and staff attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “The National Prescribed Fire Act is the type of smart, science-driven forest management policy we need.”

“America’s forests and rangelands are facing threats like never before. Climate change, increasing drought and more than a century of fire suppression have created a dangerous and untenable situation for these landscapes and their communities. Prescribed fire, when done in the right place at the right time, can help address these challenges and restore balance to ecosystems. The National Prescribed Fire Act of 2021 will provide a much-needed boost to our nation’s prescribed fire workforce. Increasing funding and the number of acres treated will improve the health and sustainability of our forests and rangelands. Its emphasis on cooperative, cross-boundary burning will improve effectiveness and efficiency, while also promoting collaboration among government agencies, Indigenous peoples and others to create a shared ownership of fire. We commend Senator Wyden and Representative Schrier for working to improve the resilience of our landscapes and communities,” said Cecilia Clavet, senior policy advisor at The Nature Conservancy

“Our forests need urgent action on a massive scale and prescribed fire is a critical ingredient in the resilient forest recipe. The correct choice between the status quo of increasingly deadly health, community and ecological impacts of unplanned catastrophic fire, and the strategic deployment of controlled prescribed fire is clear,” said Leslie Jones, Sr. Vice President for Policy at American Forests. “The National Prescribed Fire Act provides our land managers with the tools and resources needed to engage communities and build resilient forests.”

Severe wildfire is a growing reality that we must address, especially on the West Coast where catastrophic wildfires have devastated lives, communities and forests. Controlled burns are an important part of a larger strategy to better manage public lands for forest health, resilience and fire risk. Because wildfire crosses boundaries – decisions about how to manage public forests impacts neighboring private forests and communities. As a private landowner and neighbor to federal forests – we support this legislation that would promote this science-based and historically utilized practice as a tool to better manage our public lands,” said Weyerhaeuser Vice President of Corporate and Government Affairs Kristen Sawn.

The National Prescribed Fire Act is also endorsed by the National Alliance of Forest Owners, Weyerhaeuser, Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife, National Association of State Foresters, The Nature Conservancy, Vaagen Timbers, National Council of County Association Executives, Western Environmental Law Center, American Forests, Intertribal Timber Council and more.