Congressional Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus to be launched in January

Two Congressmen have announced a plan to create a Wildfire Caucus to work collaboratively on wildfire mitigation and recovery solutions.

John Curtis (R-UT) and Joe Neguse (D-CO) expect to launch the bipartisan caucus in the 117th Congress which begins January 3, 2021.

Their stated goals are to elevate in Congress an awareness and bipartisan consensus around wildfire management and mitigation, environmental and community protections, public health and safety, and wildfire preparedness and recovery. The caucus will require that members join in equal bipartisan numbers, and will seek to facilitate conversations and solutions for communities facing wildfire.

In addition, the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus will:

  • Advocate for wildfire-related programs, including funding for disaster relief, prevention, and mitigation;
  • Share federal relief programs and resources with communities before, during and after wildfire season; and
  • Highlight balanced and bipartisan science-based wildfire management and mitigation proposals in Congress.

James D. Ogsbury, the Executive Director of the Western Governors’ Association released a statement of support for the Caucus:

Wildfire is an important natural process in our environment, but uncharacteristic wildfire is a persistent threat, especially in western states, due to a host of past management practices and climate factors.  The House Wildfire Caucus is an exciting platform to bring attention to these challenges and seek bipartisan solutions to increase the health and resilience of our communities and ecosystems.  WGA is pleased to see the formation of the new Caucus and I especially want to thank its Chairs, Representatives Joe Neguse of Colorado and John Curtis of Utah, for their bipartisan leadership on this matter of great importance to the West.

Wildfire Today’s take:

When compared to other homeland security responsibilities of the federal government, wildland fire too often seems like an afterthought: yes, we have to pay to put out fires, then let’s move on to another subject. Bringing more attention to the issues listed by the two Congressmen, primarily mitigation and recovery, are worthy goals.

Maybe this caucus will step back and look at the big picture, such as, how do we avoid fire seasons like we just had in California and Oregon. Only one or two decades ago it was not common to have a fire that burned more than 100,000 acres. This year there were at least 18 across four states, and one of those burned over a million acres — unheard of in modern times.

We have to learn to live with fire, but hopefully the caucus will work on the list of six things that need to be done to protect fire-prone communities:

  1. Home spacing/lot size
  2. Envelope of the structure itself
  3. Home ignition zone
  4. Community infrastructure and planning
  5. Reducing fuels in the Wildland-Urban Interface, and
  6. Fire codes

When I heard about this new Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, I immediately thought about the plight of the federal employees who are asked to, in many cases, spend months away from their families each year suppressing wildland fires. The government will not even classify them as firefighters, instead they work under the title of forestry or range technicians while performing a hazardous job for very little pay. The description of the goals of this new caucus does not mention the 15,000 federal personnel that work in the field of wildland fire.

Two recent articles on our website (here and here) by guest authors who are currently forestry technicians lay out compelling cases for improving the way we manage these federal employees. It would not break the bank to pay them a living wage, let them ALL earn benefits such as health insurance and a retirement account, convert seasonals to permanent employees, stipulate certain presumptive illnesses that are common among firefighters, and hire them under a Firefighter position description.

I had been aware of a couple of others Caucuses, such as the Congressional Fire Services Caucus (formerly chaired by Senator Joe Biden) and the Congressional Black Caucus. But a little research revealed there are hundreds of others, including some for rum, bourbon, rugby, songwriters, working forests, baseball, bikes, and candy.

Call me a cynic, but a person has to wonder how adding to this sea of caucuses is going to have a measurable effect on the world of wildland fire.

I hope I am wrong.

It is easy to talk about making a difference. Let’s watch and see if words are converted to action.

U.S. Capitol
U.S. Capitol

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

4 thoughts on “Congressional Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus to be launched in January”

  1. Bean is right – most of the ideas you’ve identified are in the State-Local govt arena. All are worthy of action, but here’s some ideas on where the Caucus could focus meaningful federal attention:
    * strengthening support to State Forestry agencies aimed at promoting local govt action (ie – WUI Codes, Fire-Adapted Community/Firewise actions, etc);
    * cross-boundary Rx Fire work (including staffing):
    * incentivizing/expanding functional/IMT involvement (to include both multi-agency T3 Teams and retirees);
    * elevating profile of fuels work to Beas important/heroic as suppression;
    * expanding preparedness and hazard mitigation grant programs for State/local govt;
    *developing a program similar to DHS’s SAFER program for FD’’s that is focused on hiring/retaining wildfire management specialist type personnel;
    * incentivizing pre-disaster community engagement (ie -if a community has an active program to reduce risk, then 1) lower $ threshold to qualify for FEMA FMAG recovery funds following a bad fire, 2) prioritize said communities to receive grant funding opportunities, 3) focus federal federal fuel $ into the area identified a community’s CWPP, 4) etc, and
    * other?

  2. If Congress is serious they will consider creating a National Firefighting Service [air and ground] responsible for wildfire suppression and mitigation in the U.S. There’s lots of full time work available for a Federal force working suppression and mitigation. However, given their track record, Congress will continue to work around the margins of the problem.

    I think the problem with the 6 things to protect communities list is that 5 of them are considered primarily State and County issues. Congress has avoided addressing them. Unfortunately the States and Counties have relied too much on voluntary and coalition programs to avoid taking any regulatory actions that could be viewed as “anti-development”. As a result, we continue with risky developments in fire-prone areas and the non-fire adapted indefensible WUI grows larger.

  3. I agree with you Bill. S.O.S. with another caucus and study group. Not sure that we will benefit from this one either.

  4. Where is Tom McClintock from Northern Cal the representative who says he supports the forest worker. Haha


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