By Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
Congress recently passed a bipartisan budget agreement that addresses many crucial priorities for Nevadan’s.
Yet Congress failed to address the critical issue of empowering federal agencies and state fire departments. Our brave firefighters must have the equipment and financial resources to fight, mitigate and prevent wildfires throughout the country and especially in arid states like Nevada.
Out in the West, our fire seasons are growing longer and longer every year. According to the Great Basin Coordination Center, a collaborative hub between agencies and states to fight wildfires, 1.19 million acres burned throughout Nevada during the 2017 season – 658 wildfires across the state.
Last year, residents in western states saw their lives and livelihoods taken away in the span of minutes as dangerous wildfires raged through communities – destroying homes, burning down businesses, and decimating open-space areas throughout the region. This fire season is just beginning and it comes as drought levels in America are at their highest in four years. Nevada is burning at a record pace – an average 1,761 acres were burned per fire in 2017, crushing the last record average of 1,293 acres set nearly 15 years ago. Our brave firefighters are doing all they can to mitigate the risk of fire dangers, but Washington isn’t doing enough.
I’m fighting in the Senate to pass the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. This legislation ends the process of “fire borrowing” that currently requires the U.S. Forest Service to take funds from critical areas like fire prevention and apply them to the cost of fighting fires. Agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior are forced to take money from prevention and apply it to fighting the fires already happening. We must fund both and allow the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior the funding flexibility to engage in active management on federal lands to mitigate fires and cleanup the large amounts of fuel that have caused these latest wildfires to be even more destructive. Allowing these agencies, in partnership with our fire departments, to more proactively thin these fuels and arrange for controlled burns during the non-fire season reduces the amount of fuel during fire season and protects lives, property and businesses while also reducing costs.
Recently, I met with the brave men and women of the Reno Fire Department at their newest station. I heard directly from them about the funding and support they need. Every day, these men and women protect lives and ensure that our small businesses and local economies aren’t shuttered due to apocalyptic wildfires. That’s why I’ve co-sponsored the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act to ensure firefighters have access to the state-of-the-art technology they need to combat wildfires. They protect lives and livelihoods in cities and in rural communities; defending ranchers and grazing lands for livestock as well as mines and the paychecks of workers who rely on those mines to stay open. The least we can do is make sure they have the support they need. Congress must ensure that Nevada, and every other western state threatened by catastrophic wildfires, has the funds it needs to mitigate wildfire threats and support our brave firefighters.