Numerous wildfire-related bills have been introduced in Congress

Summaries of 14 still pending

Tamarack Fire, July, 2021
Tamarack Fire, July, 2021 by Christine Tsuchida

It seems like in the last year there has been more wildfire-related legislation introduced in Congress than in previous years. It’s hard to say why, but it could be related to a growing number of megafires, more communities destroyed, and increased activism in the wildland firefighter community.

Of course simply introducing legislation accomplishes nothing if it does not become law, except perhaps providing a talking point for the politician’s next reelection campaign. A cynic might suggest that some bills are introduced and press releases issued by members of Congress with no hope or expectation that they will pass. But it is difficult to tell which are real and which are vaporware.

With that in the back of our minds, here is a partial list of 15 bills and the dates they were introduced which have not passed in this 117th United States Congress (2021-2022). Only a few have made it to the committee hearing stage, and none have progressed beyond that.

H.R. 5631Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act. October 19, 2021. (Rep. Joe Neguse). This bill has numerous provisions, including raising firefighter pay, creating a wildland firefighter job series, providing health care and mental health services to temporary and permanent wildland firefighters, housing stipends, and other items. (More details are in the Wildfire Today article from October 19, 2021.)

H.R.5010FIRE Act. August 13, 2021. (Rep. Mike Garcia) This bill directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in collaboration with the U.S. weather industry and and academic partners, to establish a program within NOAA to improve wildfire forecasting and detection.

H.R.2585FIRE Act of 2021. April 1,5 2021 (Rep. Dusty Johnson) Timber salvage sales. No later than 60 days after a wildfire is contained on such lands (1) the Forest Service, to the maximum extent practicable, shall complete a survey of the lands that were impacted by such wildfire; and (2) the Department of Agriculture (USDA) shall convert the timber sales applicable to such lands that were impacted by such wildfire to salvage sales. The bill designates a categorical exclusion for forest management activities where the primary purpose of the activity is for roadside salvage activities that allow for the removal of hazard trees that are within 200 feet of a roadway center line. Activities carried out pursuant to this bill shall be subject to judicial review in the same manner as authorized hazardous fuels reduction projects. A court may not order a preliminary injunction enjoining the USDA from proceeding with timber sales authorized under this bill.

S.3092FIRE Act. October 27, 2021. (Sen. Alex Padilla) The bill would, according to Senator Padilla, update the Stafford Act that governs FEMA—which was written when the agency primarily focused on hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods—to improve FEMA’s response to wildfires, including by accounting for “melted infrastructure” and burned trees as well as allowing FEMA to pre-deploy assets during times of highest wildfire risk and red flag warnings. The bill would also ensure cultural competency for FEMA’s counseling and case management services, help to ensure relocation assistance is accessible to public infrastructure in fire prone areas, prioritize survivors’ housing needs after disasters, ensure equity of assistance for tribal communities and tribal governments, and examine ways to speed up the federal assistance process and improve the availability of fire insurance. More info.

S.1734National Prescribed Fire Act of 2021. May 20, 2021. (Sen. Ron Wyden). The bill would appropriate $300 million each to the Departments of the Interior (DOI) and Agriculture (DOA) to increase the pace and scale of controlled burns on state, county, and federally managed lands. It sets an annual target of at least one million acres treated with prescribed fire by federal agencies, but not to exceed 20 million. It requires the two departments to hire additional employees. Overtime payments for prescribed fire could be paid out of wildfire suppression accounts. More info.

S.138Wildland Firefighter Pay Act. January 28, 2021. (Sen. Dianne Feinstein.) It would raise the maximum limit on overtime pay for federal firefighters. The current limit affects higher level employees at the GS-12 and above level, and some GS-11s depending on if they are exempt from the provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Under the existing provisions if they work hundreds of hours of overtime they may reach the cap after which they earn no more money. In some cases later in the fire season employees who spent a lot of time fighting fires have been told they earned too much and were forced to pay some of it back. More info.

S.1116Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2021. April 14, 2021 (Sen. Thomas Carper.) Establishes for federal workers certain medical conditions as presumptive illnesses. Specifically, the bill provides that (1) heart disease, lung disease, and specified cancers of federal employees employed in fire protection activities for at least 5 years are presumed to be proximately caused by such employment if the employee is diagnosed with the disease within 10 years of employment; and (2) the disability or death of the employee due to such disease is presumed to result from personal injury sustained in the performance of duty. These presumptions also apply to fire protection employees (regardless of the length of employment) who contract any communicable disease at the center of a designated pandemic or any chronic infectious disease that the Department of Labor determines is related to job-related hazards.

H.R.6336Western Wildfire Support Act of 2021. December 20, 2021. (Joe Neguse.) Establishes a program to train and certify citizens who wish to be able to volunteer to assist USDA or Interior during a wildland fire incident, and a program to award grants to eligible states or units of local government to acquire slip-on tank and pump units for a surge capacity of resources for fire suppression. It requires the Joint Fire Science Program to carry out research and development of unmanned aircraft system fire applications.

Total wildfire acres

S.2419Wildfire Smoke Emergency Declaration Act of 2021. (Sen. Jeff Merkley.) This bill authorizes the President to declare a smoke emergency and provide emergency assistance to affected communities under specified circumstances. Specifically, the President, upon determining that there is, or anticipating that there will be, a significant decrease in air quality due to wildland fire smoke in one or more states, may declare a smoke emergency. The governor or other agency of a state that is or will be affected may request such a declaration. If the President declares a smoke emergency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal agencies may provide emergency assistance to states and local communities that are or will be affected by the emergency, including grants, equipment, supplies, and personnel and resources for establishing smoke shelters, air purifiers, and additional air monitoring sites. The Small Business Administration may provide grants to any small business concern that loses a significant amount of revenue due to wildland fire smoke in an area in which the President has declared a smoke emergency.

S.2661Smoke-Ready Communities Act of 2021. August 5, 2021. (Sen. Jeff Merkley) Provides funding for infrastructure upgrades to public buildings to filter out wildfire smoke. It would also assist with local efforts to provide health information about wildfire smoke.

S.2421Smoke Planning and Research Act. July 21, 2021. (Sen. Jeff Merkley.) It would make available each year $80 million to fund research on the public health impacts of wildfire smoke and create a grant program for local community planning relating to wildfire smoke.

H.R.4614Resilient Federal Forests Act. (Rep. Bruce Westerman) Primarily related to the logging industry, it streamlines or avoids compliance with some requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act by establishing numerous categorical exclusions for projects on National Forest System and public lands. It does away with many of the environment regulations a logging company must satisfy before a timber sale takes place.

S.48721st Century Conservation Corps Act. (Sen. Ron Wyden.) The bill would provide funds to support a natural resource management and conservation workforce and bolster wildfire prevention and preparedness. Establishes a $9 billion fund for qualified land and conservation corps to increase job training and hiring specifically for jobs in the woods, helping to restore public lands and provide jobs in a time of need. Provides an additional $3.5 billion for the U.S. Forest Service and $2 billion for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to support science-based projects aimed at improving forest health and reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire. Establishes a $2 billion fund to provide economic relief for outfitters and guides holding U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior special use permits. Provides $2 billion for the National Fire Capacity program, which helps the Forest Service implement FireWise, to prevent, mitigate, and respond to wildfire around homes and businesses on private land. Provides $2 billion for the FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program to improve resiliency for communities impacted by wildfire. Provides $6 billion for U.S. Forest Service, $6 billion for the National Park Service, and $2 billion for the Bureau of Land Management maintenance accounts to create jobs, reduce the maintenance backlog, and expand access to recreation. More information.

S.2650Wildfire Resilient Communities Act. August 5, 2021. (Sen. Jeff Merkley.)  Sets aside $30 billion for the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to boost catastrophic wildfire reduction projects. Provides financial and technical assistance to at-risk communities adjacent to Federal land, including through States, to assist the at-risk communities in planning and preparing for wildfire, including cosponsoring and supporting the expansion of the Firewise USA program, the Ready, Set, Go program, and the Living with Wildfire program.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.

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.

11 thoughts on “Numerous wildfire-related bills have been introduced in Congress”

  1. H.R 2585, while trying to ensure that salvage logging is conducted while the timber is still merchantable, doesn’t appear to be based on principles forest ecology, and seems problematic in preventing courts from ordering injunctions. Does Congress have the authority to tell the Judicial how to enforce laws?
    S. 3092, for anybody that has worked incidents in conjunction with FEMA, I say thanks but no thanks. In fairness they have gotten a little better over the past 30 years, but still come in like gang busters trying to tell those who actually have the boots on the ground experience how to manage incidents when they are outside their realm of experience. And they are terrific in hogging the media spotlight when operations go well while elbowing aside the incident management teams that actually do the work.

    1. I enjoyed working with my FEMA counterparts while setting up VAX sites in the eastern states last year. With the exception of one person, I would gladly bring that group into any IMT setting on fire suppression. Maybe if we could find a way to actually intermingle more often than when ESF4 is activated, we could help not hinder each other.

      1. Exactly….more interagency cooperation rather than the “turf wars” of the PTB and 20 yrs of “us vs them” in the ICS world and people do know what Im talkin about! Incident quals and computer systems…somehow agencies thinking their computer systems are completely proprietary…only diff FEMA does not have a “true” Pack test designated…..disaster sites can be equally as arduous as many wildland fire sites except for the occasional slopes that wildland types have a daily encounter with. Intermingling “ain’t” hard, it’s the Agency fathers and mothers that make it hard!!

        1. Interesting fact that I learned, is during a FEMA “deployment” they are assigned to that specific incident typically for the duration. The VAX site I was setting up, I was there for my 21 days, my FEMA counterparts were preparing for the full 3 months. Wow. Can you imagine being assigned to that one fire in that one region for 3 months? However they were scheduling their staggered days off during the week, typically like a 6 and 1, 5 and 2 type schedule.

          Another thing I noticed, they never once complained about pay, or lunch breaks, or hours worked in the day. We were sitting around one night after dinner, and the discussion on GS scales came up. They were floored myself and the FS OSC3 with me were GS9’s. They couldn’t believe we had GS4 EMT’s on the site pushing vax, who were also “firefighters”. This coming from my GS15 ICT3 (FEMA) counterpart, and the GS13’s in other C&G positions. The discussions around incident capabilities, as well as day job duties, they all agreed my position (BLM FOS) would be a GS13 under their structure. The 15’s job was equivalent to what a BLM District FMO manages, and the executive assistant to that position was a GS9. I will probably never again in my career see a GS15 ICT3 out in the field filling a need, or will never talk smack over beers to a GS15 or multiple GS13’s, who could all equally dish it back.

          Regardless, in a time when some GACC’s are discussing consolidating IMT’s due to lack of qualified ICS positions, there’s untapped agency resources that are good at what they do, and could be better with integrating into our IMT’s and vice versus. But this will NEVER happen on a routine basis.

          1. Yep krs……FEMA deployments have the luxuries of 3month + hotel stays and anyone bitchin about 2 weeks “deployments” in fire welllll…back in the 1980’s and 1990’s it was 3 weeks as I recall and plenty o nights with a date called Pulaski or McLeod. Yes, we dual EM and Fire types are a untapped resource. It s a good experience for the LMA type to see how the “other” disaster world works and even FEMA has “used” people like the 1039/term/ eieieiooo schedules…but now they are increasing pay and responsibility and even advertising some PFT type work. Doesn’t the LMAs stil require about 16-20 years temporary before one gets a golden egg PFT gig? LOLOL

  2. Aglearn Bro, Somebody is finally making sense…….

    Bill, the graph that you have included speaks volumes concerning the direction we have been trending towards since the mid 80’s, yes we are burning more acres, certainly, however it’s not really correlating with the doom and gloom that so many profess to be taking place, what I see are very destructive fires that are impacting a great many of our communities, maybe it’s time to have a real dialog about where we build, with climate change and past management practices we need to really look at our communities at risk, tax payer dollars should not be used to mitigate individual home owner issues, are you kidding, I can support using these funds for community use….Firewise support. WUI is really a local and state Gov problem, many areas have competed wildfire protection plans but most need grants to get these proposed projects off the ground and for this I agree that tax payer funds should be used….

  3. I am going to introduce a bill, the More Dozers Act of 2022″ It will provide billions to purchase/maintain thousands of IA and EA dozers and transports. It will also fund dozer operator and swamper positions along with swamper vehicles. Every Region shall have no less than 3 “VLD’s” or Very Large Dozers (D10’s or equivalent) for when wrecking shop is imperative. Additionally, it will grant immediate permission to use dozers in the wilderness without delay and without prior approval from a line officer.

    Ladies and gentleman, diplomacy (fuels work) has failed, it’s time to prepare for war (heavy handed/bar fight type suppression). VLD’s BABY!!!!!!!!!

  4. A lot of these bills seem to have good content and then contain obvious non-starters for bipartisanship as if they are intentioned to have little support from both parties. Frustrating.

    Thanks for putting this together Bill, great to see it all in one place.


Comments are closed.