Secretary Vilsack discusses fire management while visiting Fresno

Secretary Tom Vilsack
File photo of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was at Fresno State University in California Tuesday primarily to discuss the pending Farm Bill, but he took the opportunity to talk about fire management within the U.S. Forest Service. Below is an excerpt from Valley Public Radio:

…But he also used his address to call for a new approach when it comes to battling forest fires, such as the Rim Fire, which burned over 400 square miles in and around Yosemite earlier this year.

“The problem has been that over a long period of time we haven’t invested in resiliency and the restoration of our forest,” Vilsack says.

He said years of poor forest management, plus climate change and disease have left millions of acres with dangerously high levels of fuel.

According to Vilsack the Forest Service spends around $2 billion a year fighting fires. This year, the number of fires totaled 40,000. He told the audience that he’s asked President Obama to look at new ways to fund efforts to stop so-called mega-fires.

“We’re working on a new way to adequately fund fire suppression so we don’t have to take money from the restoration side of the budget which will allow us to accelerate in making these forests more resilient and removing that hazardous fuel so the risk of fire is reduced and the intensity of fire is also reduced,” Vilsack says.

He said the farm bill contains provisions for stewardship contractors to use wood cleared from overgrown forests, but he also said more can be done to turn forest waste into renewable sources of energy.

Secretaries Vilsack and Jewell discuss wildfire preparedness

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack meets USFS firefighters in Boise, May 13. USDA photo.

During a visit to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (just 34 days into her new job) discussed the state of wildfire preparedness.

Secretary Vilsack said there will be 500 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer engines this year as a result of the budget cuts required by the sequester process adopted by Congress and signed by the President. Vilsack said the overall reduction is more than seven percent.

The Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, testified before a congressional committee April 16, saying:

We will have the resources we need.

Several news organizations reported on today’s visit. The Salt Lake Tribune wrote, in part:

In answering a question about whether firefighters would make it a priority to protect watersheds in Utah, [Secretary] Jewell said the cuts also are reducing what the federal land agencies spend on preventing fires and rehabilitating lands after a fire.

“You can’t do as much as that advance work as you would like or the post-fire remediation to maintain the integrity of those ecosystems,” Jewell said.

The Idaho Statesman:

Idaho Republican Jim Risch, who joined the two cabinet secretaries on the tour praised the firefighting agencies for doing as well as they can with less. But Risch, who voted for the cuts, offered little hope the secretaries will be able to avoid the robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul tradeoffs they face.

“”We got to accept the fact there is not going to be federal funding like there was before,” Risch said.

But in August, if all of the firefighting resources are already in place and more are needed to meet the threat Risch said he and other western lawmakers will put together a coalition to get the emergency funding that is necessary.

Jewell joined smokejumpers Sunday on a training flight five weeks into her tenure as Interior secretary. She also led the entourage over to the Boise Fire Dispatch outside of NIFC to see how the firefighters from federal, state and local governments work together on the ground.

The press release issued by the DOI and DOA included this passage:

Federal assets include more than 13,000 firefighters, including permanent and seasonal federal employees; more than 1,600 engines; up to 26 multiengine air tankers and two water scooper aircrafts; approximately 27 single engine air tankers; and hundreds of helicopters.

Note the “up to 26 multiengine air tankers”. The reality is, there are eight large air tankers on contract — seven 50+ year-old P2Vs, and one BAe-146. In addition to those, six of the seven “next generation” 3,000+ gallon air tankers that were just notified they would be receiving contracts are months or more away from being certified by the FAA and the Interagency AirTanker Board. Some of them may not be seen dropping on a fire until late this summer or even next year, if they are certified at all. The two scoopers mentioned carry less than 1,500 gallons. In addition, the USFS may again borrow some 2,000-gallon, 50-year old Convair 580s from Canada if they are available and not tied up on fires.


Thanks go out to Kelly

Napolitano and Vilsack visit NIFC

National Interagency Fire Center

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise on Tuesday for a western fire season update.

Photo (left to right): John Glenn (BLM), Ernest Mitchell (US Fire Administrator), Dan Smith (NASF), Secretary Napolitano (DHS), Bill Kaage (NPS), John Segar (FWS), Tory Henderson (USFS), Secretary Vilsack (USDA), Tim Murphy (BLM). Photo courtesy of NIFC.

Obama to nominate Vilsack as Sec. of Agriculture

Tom Vilsack with his wife Christie announcing his withdrawal from the presidential race.

The Associated Press is reporting that they have two Democratic sources that say President-elect Obama will nominate former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as the Secretary of Agriculture, the department that oversees the U.S. Forest Service. Obama is expected to make the announcement on Wednesday.

On November 30, 2006 Vilsack became the first candidate to announce that he was running for the Democratic nomination for president but dropped out a few months later after receiving lukewarm support. In March, 2007 Hillary Clinton bought Vilsack’s endorsement in exchange for Clinton assuming his $400,000 campaign debt and appointing his wife Christie as the co-chair of Clinton’s campaign in Iowa. *sigh*

Vilsack has no record on the topic of wildland fire that we could discover after a brief Google search.

He was one of the three names that Wildfire Today reported as possibilities for the position on November 5, along with Tom Buis and Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD). By the way, yesterday Sandlin gave birth to her first child, Zachary Lars Sandlin. Congratulations Representative Sandlin.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin