Statements from five presidential candidates about wildland fire

They were asked about how to break the cycle of more severe weather, homes in fire-prone areas, and fire suppression that puts forests at greater risk for more catastrophic fires in the future

North Pole Fire South Dakota
Chain saw operator on the North Pole Fire west of Custer, SD March 10, 2015. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

In an effort to provide for our readers information about positions the presidential candidates have taken on wildland fire issues, today we have the second article in the series. Earlier this month we searched the websites of the candidates and were able to find the issue addressed by only one, Mike Bloomberg, which we put in a February 15 article.

We wrote:

To be clear, Wildfire Today is not endorsing any candidates, but in an effort to inform voters we will be happy to write about all substantive written positions related to fire that are taken by presidential Candidates as long as they have more than 2 percent in a reliable nationwide poll on the election such as this one at fivethirtyeight.

We have already covered the incumbent’s plan, the proposed budget for next fiscal year.

After seeing that article one of our readers, Su Britting, informed us that she had seen a piece in the Desert Sun featuring the candidates’ responses to a fire-related question posed by a Research Scientist for the U.S. Forest Service who also teaches at the University of California at Davis.

Below is an excerpt from the article, used here with permission from Executive Editor Julie Makinen. The only part not included are a few introductory paragraphs written by the reporter, Sam Metz. The candidates’ statements in the Desert Sun article are included in their entirety.


…We enlisted Professor Malcolm North, a fire ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service who also teaches at UC Davis, to ask the candidates running in the Democratic Party’s presidential primary a question about wildfire policy.

North wanted to see how candidates would balance California’s need for more housing with the hazards of building in wildfire-prone regions and how they’d address concerns surrounding fire suppression and its potential to exacerbate the problem. Each candidate was given the same set of questions to answer within a specific timeframe.  Some campaigns responded in the third person (e.g. “Senator Klobuchar believes …”) while other candidates responded themselves (e.g. “As president, I’ll invest …”). Candidates that are not featured did not provide a response.

Like most of the western United States, California’s wildfires are becoming more destructive with more severe weather, unchecked home building in fire-prone areas, and fire suppression that puts forests at greater risk for larger, more catastrophic fires in the future. As president, how would you do to help break this cycle for the sake of both people and ecosystems? — Malcolm North, Research Scientist, U.S. Forest Service, Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

Elizabeth Warren: Climate change is an existential threat to all life on this planet — and Californians are already seeing the dangers of climate change first hand.  Elizabeth Warren is an original co-sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution and has more than 10 climate plans that detail how a Warren administration will achieve domestic net zero emissions by 2030.

Wildfires pose an especially serious threat to low-income communities, people with disabilities, and seniors. That’s why Elizabeth has committed to:

  • Improving fire mapping and prevention by investing in advanced modeling with a focus on helping the most vulnerable — incorporating not only fire vulnerability but community demographics.
  • Prioritize these data to invest in land management, particularly near the most vulnerable communities, supporting forest restoration, lowering fire risk, and creating jobs all at once.
  • Invest in microgrid technology, so that we can de-energize high-risk areas when required without impacting the larger community’s energy supply.
  • Collaborate with Tribal governments on land management practices to reduce wildfires, including by incorporating traditional ecological practices and exploring co-management and the return of public resources to indigenous protection wherever possible.

She’s also committed to prioritizing at-risk populations in disaster planning and response and strengthening rules to require disaster response plans to uphold the rights of vulnerable populations. A Warren administration will center a right to return for individuals who have been displaced during a disaster and while relocation should be a last resort, when it occurs, she is committed to improving living standards and keeping communities together whenever possible.

Pete Buttigieg: California’s devastating wildfires are one example of the accelerated impacts of climate change. This is one of the most pressing security challenges of our era and it will absolutely be a top priority under my administration. To stem the impacts of climate change my administration will get our country to net-zero emissions no later than 2050, by implementing a bold and achievable Green New Deal. We will enact a price on carbon and use the revenue to send rebates directly to Americans’ pockets. We will also quadruple federal clean energy R&D funding to invest more than $200 billion in developing new technologies as well as create three investment funds to spur clean technology development and fund locally-led clean energy projects, particularly in disadvantaged communities.

Promoting resilient infrastructure is crucial to preparing communities against climate change. The American Clean Energy Bank and Regional Resilience Hubs that I am proposing will finance local investments in resilient infrastructure. My administration will develop federal guidelines for investments in and implementation of new approaches, including nature-based solutions, that make our natural resources and communities safer and more resilient. We will also establish a National Catastrophic Extreme Weather Insurance (CEWI) program to provide stability to individuals and communities who experience the major disruptions caused by climate change and other natural risks such as earthquakes. We will build a resilient nation that can stand up to the extreme weather and sea level rise we are already facing, and lead the world in bringing our international partners and local leaders together to solve this crisis.

Tom Steyer: I began this campaign because despite several Democratic candidates talking about the climate crisis, the seriousness of the threat was not getting the attention it demanded.  I am the only candidate who will make addressing climate change my number one priority as President of the United States. Climate change doesn’t just represent a serious threat — it is also a great opportunity to build a sustainable American infrastructure and an economy that restores prosperity to all Americans, not just the wealthy. In order to break the cycle of the catastrophic effects of climate change, we need to build resilient infrastructure and a renewable economy. We also need to invest in individual ecosystems (forests, lakes, oceans) in the context of climate change. This will mean undoing the negligence of the Trump administration’s policies and creating collaboration between the states and the federal government to address the problems of designing, building and maintaining climate-resilient communities.

As part of my Justice Centered Climate Plan, I will invest nearly $500 billion in the upkeep and protection of our watersheds, wetlands, national parks, and forests — and this includes fire management as well as protecting our clean drinking water. Because while some of the impacts of climate change are already here, there are levelheaded preventative measures we can take to protect ourselves and our forests from the worst dangers. My plan puts $555 billion into developing climate-smart communities and housing and an additional $755 billion into adaptation, resilience, and green infrastructure. This will ensure that the people who are displaced from fires and flooding have affordable places to live with access to green space. And it will also ensure that they have good-paying jobs building our new climate-resilient infrastructure, protecting our lands and waters, and serving communities hit by the climate crisis as long-term disaster recovery workers.

Bernie Sanders: We’re already seeing the devastating effects of climate change. In California, 15 of the 20 largest fires in the state’s history have occurred since 2000. We must invest now in mitigating these more frequent and severe wildfires, making our infrastructure more resilient, and preparing for disaster response. We must change our framework of fire suppression and forest management to take the whole local ecosystem into account, including the rural communities who are most vulnerable.

In California, developers are building houses in fire hazard zones, a move partially driven by the housing shortage. Bernie is committed to fully closing the 7.4 million unit shortage of affordable housing to guarantee housing to all as a right. We will work to ensure housing growth is climate-resilient, with experts and impacted communities included every step of the way.

We’ll expand the wildfire restoration and disaster preparedness workforce. We’ll increase federal funding for firefighting by $18 billion to deal with the increased severity and frequency of wildfires. Furthermore, we must facilitate community evacuation plans that include people experiencing homelessness, and increase social cohesion for rapid and resilient disaster recovery to avoid the use of martial law and increased policing in disaster response.

We’ll also amend the Stafford Act to ensure that FEMA ensures that recovery and rebuilding efforts make affected communities stronger than they were before the disaster so they are more resilient to the next disaster.

Michael Bloomberg: First and most importantly, we’ve got to act aggressively to curb the carbon pollution and climate change that is like pouring accelerant on our western forests, making fires bigger and more catastrophic — this will be a top priority for my presidency. In addition, we’ve got to transition from the old fire suppression approach to managing our forests to restore healthy ecosystems that are inherently more resilient to catastrophic fire.

I’m calling for an effort on the scale of FDR’s response to the Dust Bowl, making this a top priority for the Forest Service. I will direct them to work with other federal land agencies, states, tribes, and local communities to develop a far-reaching fire prevention and management plan for each state at risk, aiming to reduce the loss of lives and property by half within four years.

Fire management and the presidential election

As we have said often here at Wildfire Today, we do not get into politics unless it directly affects firefighters or fire management. And there is nothing more political than a presidential election.

However, I ran across an op-ed written by Ken Pimlott, former chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, who mentioned that one candidate has a wildfire plan. I do not recall any major candidate saying much about wildland fire, so it got my attention.

To be clear, Wildfire Today is not endorsing any candidates, but in an effort to inform voters we will be happy to write about all substantive written positions related to fire that are taken by presidential candidates as long as they have more than 2 percent in a reliable nationwide poll on the election such as this one at fivethirtyeight.

We have already covered the incumbent’s plan, the proposed budget for next fiscal year.

The candidate Chief Pimlott wrote about is Mike Bloomberg. Below is the text from his “Wildfire Resilience” webpage:


Lead a Nationwide Effort to Strengthen the Nation’s Resilience against Wildfires

Responsibility for preventing and fighting fires crosses multiple jurisdictions and interests — federal, state, local, private and tribal. In the West in particular, multiple landowners can be involved between the point where a fire starts and where it causes the most damage. This kind of large-scale action demands strong leadership and coordination. To ensure our country is protected from future harm and is equipped to mitigate future damages, Mike knows that it’s up to the federal government, as the majority landowner of forests in the West, to take the lead. Mike’s plan will:

  • Make fire resilience a top priority of the U.S. Forest Service, as well as other federal land management agencies. Task the agency with coordinating the development of a far-reaching new plan for firefighting and fire prevention for each Western state.
  • Increase collaboration among all levels of government, and public and private sectors. The Forest Service will work with other federal partners, local communities, state and local agencies, tribal leaders, environmental groups, private timber companies, rural land owners, utilities and the insurance industry to develop region- or state-specific plans with the goal of reducing life and property loss by half within four years.
  • Improve community resilience and prevent redlining by the insurance industry. Collaborative fire protection plans will include measures to reduce risk to communities and property, minimize damages in case of fire, and thereby improve the chances of getting or maintaining insurance, so that current homeowners who don’t have alternatives aren’t left without the ability to insure for disasters.

Continue reading “Fire management and the presidential election”

California Governor’s proposed budget would add 677 firefighters

If approved, the budget would also establish a Wildfire Forecast and Threat Intelligence Integration Center

S-2T air tanker Holy Fire Santiago Peak California
An S-2T air tanker makes a drop on the Holy Fire at Santiago Peak in Southern California, August 27, 2018. Image from HPWREN camera.

In his proposed $222 billion budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year beginning July 1, California Gov. Gavin Newsom put forth several initiatives that if approved by the legislature could have a significant effect on wildland firefighting in the state. The budget refers to “the new normal fire conditions” and the need to mitigate long periods of fighting fires without respite.

Additional funding for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) would include $120 million in 2020-2021 and $150 ongoing for each of the following four years. This would enable the creation of 677 more positions phased in over five years resulting in operational flexibility through peak fire season and beyond, based on fire conditions. These positions would:

  1. Provide coverage behind personnel vacations, sick days, training, and during predicted weather events and major incidents.
  2. Provide a resource pool to staff additional engines on the shoulder seasons if it becomes necessary to increase the staffing on the existing 65 year-round engines.
  3. Add a fourth firefighter on a portion of CAL FIRE engines as fire conditions dictate.

The budget includes $9 million to establish a Wildfire Forecast and Threat Intelligence Integration Center staffed by 22 positions to identify current wildfire threats and improve situational awareness of conditions in real-time.

The proposed budget sets aside $100 million for CAL FIRE and OES to administer a home hardening pilot program, with a focus on homes located in low-income communities in areas of high fire risk. The program would also fund 26 positions for defensible space inspections.

The budget approved for the 2019-2020 fiscal year included funds to operate the HC-130H aircraft that will be converted to air tankers, continue the replacement of the 12 aging Bell Super Huey Helicopters with new Sikorsky S-70I Firehawks, and operate 100 additional fire detection cameras.

NASF supports legislation to enable greater sharing of firefighting resources

Swan Lake Fire
Swan Lake Fire in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, June 12, 2019, 5 miles east of the community of Sterling, Alaska. InciWeb photo.

From the National Association of State Foresters

The National Association of State Foresters is calling on Congress to introduce and pass legislation that will allow resource sharing among states and Canadian provinces for the express purpose of fighting wildfires.

“To better protect Americans from wildfire, our states need Congress to enact federal legislation to address liability concerns for Forest Fire Compact resource exchanges,” Alaska State Forester Chris Maisch told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Thursday. “Current federal and state legislation doesn’t provide adequate liability protections to compacts so that they can freely exchange emergency response personnel and resources like firefighting aircraft. In effect, some states are unable to mobilize critical resources across compact boundaries.”

Chris Maisch, Alaska State Forester
Chris Maisch, Alaska State Forester, testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee June 13, 2019.

Across North America, there are eight operating Forest Fire Compacts. Each compact includes several state members, and a few even include Canadian provinces. Within each compact, wildfire fighting resources and personnel can be deployed quickly and efficiently from state-to-state to suppress wildfires. But under current legislation, compact-to-compact sharing of resources is limited.

For example, the Southern Forest Fire Compacts are reluctant to accept resources from the Northeast and Northwest Forest Fire Compacts because the latter compacts don’t have inter-compact liability protection language in their statutes. The Northwest Compact does not accept or export any resources on a compact-to-compact basis for the same reason. This lack of compact-to-compact liability protection means that half of states (and several Canadian provinces) aren’t able to share wildfire fighting resources, even in times of extreme emergency.

“The first Forest Fire Compact was established in 1949 as a way for states to share firefighting resources crucial to managing wildfires efficiently,” said Jay Farrell, NASF executive director. “NASF and the Alliance for Forest Fire Compacts are urging Congress to give these compacts a fix, allowing more life-saving resources to be deployed for wildfire response.”

House approves amendment that could prevent transfer and closure of Job Corps Centers

Schenck Job Corps Center Chief Christiansen
Photo of the Schenck Job Corps Center in North Carolina September 26, 2018 operated by the Forest Service, taken during a visit by Forest Service Chief Christiansen (third from the left). The center was ranked as the number one Job Corps Center out of 123 nationwide during the program year that ended June 30, 2018.

On Wednesday the House of Representatives voted 313-109 to approve an amendment to an appropriations bill that would preserve the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center program administered by the U.S. Forest Service. The Trump Administration’s intends to transfer the management of  25 Job Corps Centers from the Forest Service to the Department of Labor (DOL) and permanently close 9 of those 25 centers.

The amendment introduced by Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio would prohibit the government from spending any funds to “alter or terminate the Interagency Agreement between the United States Department of Labor and the United States Department of Agriculture governing the funding, establishment, and operation of Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers”. It would also prohibit funds being used to close any of the 25 Job Corps centers that are now operated by the Forest Service.

Transferring the Centers to the Department of Labor could result in the loss of over 1,000 jobs within the Forest Service.

The centers currently employ more than 1,100 people, operate in 17 national forests and grasslands across 16 states, and provide training to over 3,000 youth and young adults according to Congressman DeFazio.

Information from the U.S. Forest Service said 1,200 CCC students provided the equivalent of 450,000 hours of wildfire support during the height of the 2017 fire season.

If you would like to get into the weeds about how this amendment was introduced and debated on the floor of the House, you can read the transcript published in the Congressional Record, beginning on page H4541.

Representatives who spoke in favor of the bill during the debate included Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Sanford Bishop of Georgia, Dan Newhouse of Washington, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington.

The lone representative speaking against the measure was Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. Interestingly, the Schenck Job Corps Center in her state was ranked as the number one Job Corps Center out of 123 nationwide during the program year that ended June 30, 2018.

A letter from the National Association of Home Builders backing the amendment was included in the official record. Here is an excerpt:

The recent termination of the Department of Agriculture’s training partnership with Job Corps and subsequent announcement by the Department of Labor (DOL) of nine center closures is deeply concerning to NAHB and its workforce development arm, the Home Builders Institute (HBI), which has trained and placed thousands of students for careers in residential construction through its 45-year partnership with Job Corps. HBI Job Corps programs are offered at 65 centers across the country, and have equipped at-risk youth with the skills and experience they need for successful careers through pre-apprenticeship training, job placement services, mentoring, certification programs, textbooks and curricula.

DOL’s planned Job Corps center closures stand to impact more than 43 construction training programs, six of which are operated by HBI at three of the affected locations. Many of these centers serve rural and dislocated communities and have enrollment numbers exceeding national and regional averages. However, the Department of Labor has not disclosed any performance metrics or data to support its closure determinations and it has provided little information on how it will continue to serve the thousands of at-risk youth who will be displaced from their local centers. Further, DOL has not informed contracted training partners like HBI whether their successfully operating programs–and their administering staff–will be relocated or simply terminated along with the centers they have served.

The amendment passed with a voice vote, but  Chip Roy of Texas objected and forced a recorded vote — which also passed, 313-109. All Democrats voted in favor; Republicans voted 81 for and 109 against.

The legislation the measure is attached to is a major bill, the “Fiscal Year 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Legislative Branch, Defense, State, Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act”, H.R. 2740.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Six new technologies that can aid wildland firefighters

Hearing about technology wildland fire
Hearing about technology for wildland fire, before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee June 5, 2019.

This week the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing in Washington about new technologies that can aid wildland firefighters. The Committee invited companies to describe new systems that can help firefighters communicate and improve their situational awareness. Legislation signed by the President in March requires the federal land management agencies to adopt within 6 to 24 months systems that can track in real time both the advancing edge of a wildfire and all of the firefighting resources working on the incident. Firefighters have been killed when these important facts about a dangerous fire were not known, due to smoke, darkness, or terrain.

In the video below we see interviews with the representatives of six companies describing their systems that may improve the situational awareness of firefighters.

(The video can also be viewed at YouTube)

Only three of the 20 Senators that are members of the committee attended the hearing, Cory Gardner (CO), Maria Cantwell (WA), and Martin Heinrich (NM). Approximately 20 Senators sent one or more  members of their staff to observe.

In addition to the six companies that appear in the video, other organizations that had exhibits and made presentations in the hearing were the National Weather Service, Rave Mobile Safety, Vulcan Fire, and Simtable.