7/18/13: Gosar, Flake tackle wildfire prevention

Gosar and Flake tackle wildfire prevention

Lynne LaMaster
Thursday, July 18, 2013, 09:01 a.m.

The Arizona delegation works together to prevent wildfires

It was last April when Representative Paul Gosar called for swift action on the Wildfire Bill, also known as the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013 (H.R. 1345).

Read the full text of H.R. 1345

"There's an emergency situation in my community, and we must act," Gosar said at the Natural Resources Committee hearing last spring. More prophetic words were never spoken.

"We know wildfire season is coming, so why not prepare for it?" Gosar asked at that time. "Every summer tens of thousands of acres of federal forest land needlessly burn. We lose timber, habitat and animals. Current federal policies do nothing to stop this problem. My bill will change that. Let's address our forest mismanagement now and pass my wildfire bill so we can mitigate the tragic consequences of catastrophic wildfires."

There were 16 co-sponsors on H.R. 1345, from both sides of the aisle.

Since Gosar's testimony, the Doce Fire burned 6767 acres of the Prescott National Forest. The Yarnell Hill Fire burned 8,400 acres, and 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew were killed. As a matter of fact, according to the Yarnell Hill Fire Summary, at the time the Yarnell Hill Fire started, "There were 33 new fires and four ongoing fires for a total of 37 fires active and being managed, statewide."

The Senate Perspective

Now, Senator Jeff Flake is adding his voice to the discussion. Here is his op-ed piece on the subject:

A Better Tool For Fighting Wildfires

By U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake

More so than usual, wildland fire has been on the minds of Arizonans in recent days. As we continue to search for ways to prevent future tragedies, it is worth noting that the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are about to lose one of their most valuable tools in reducing wildfire threats.

Provided by Congress, stewardship contracting authority allows the Forest Service and BLM – in collaboration with state and local governments, tribal agencies and non-governmental organizations – to enter into long-term contracts with private companies or communities to carry out projects that can reduce the risk of wildland fire.

By thinning too-dense forests in wildfire-prone areas and generating income by selling wood products that have been removed, these projects can benefit the health of the forest, the nearby communities and the project partners.

Stewardship contracts have been particularly useful in Arizona. The Forest Service awarded the first such 10-year contract to the White Mountain Stewardship Project in 2004, and the largest contract – the Four Forest Restoration Initiative – began in 2012, with an initial agreement to treat 300,000 acres. These contracts have paved the way for critical landscape-level forest treatments.

Unless Congress acts, the authority to enter into these agreements will expire at the end of September. As Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell recently noted, more than 40 percent of the national forest system is in need of treatment. This expiration couldn't come at a less opportune moment.

Congress should waste no time in renewing this beneficial tool.

To that end, I am pleased to be joined by Sen. John McCain in introducing S. 1300, the Stewardship Contracting Reauthorization and Improvement Act. This legislation will result in a 10-year extension of authority for federal agencies to enter into these agreements, as well as build on past experiences to make commonsense improvements.

For starters, the bill gives the Forest Service and BLM flexibility when holding funds in reserve to compensate its partners in the event a contract is cancelled. Typically, the government has to hold in reserve the full amount of the contract, which can be a significant investment, for the agreement's duration, which can last up to 10 years.

This requirement can serve as an impediment to long-term contracts, precisely the type of agreement that most significantly reduces wildfire risks. Our bill solves this by giving the government flexibility in reserving those funds, while requiring that any extra value from a contract be used first to satisfy any outstanding cancellation-related liabilities.

Long-term stewardship contracting and the resulting partnerships help restore Arizona's forests, reduce the risk of out-of-control wildfires and protect rural communities. It is my hope that Congress will act to allow these success stories to continue and ensure that this critical instrument remains in the firefighting toolbox. 

Flake is a U.S. Senator from Arizona.


Read more: http://www.prescottenews.com/index.php/news/current-news/item/21971-gosar-flake-tackle-wildfire-prevention#ixzz2ZW8Ls4O8