WASHINGTON, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in requesting funding to modernize firefighting assets so the U.S. Forest Service can respond in a more efficient and cost-effective manner to devastating wildfires. The fire season in Colorado this past year, which stretched resources thin, demonstrates the need to invest further in these firefighting assets.
The senators, in letters to Senate Committee on Appropriations leadership and the U.S. Forest Service, highlighted the need for a modern, highly-capable large air tanker and water-scooper fleet—proven to be one of the most effective immediate responses to limit the expansion of wildfires into uncontrollable mega-fires. The available aircraft currently flying this mission are retired ex-military/ex-civil aircraft, repurposed for air tanker operations and flown by small private contract firms; therefore they are outdated and limited in number.
“The intensity and duration of the past successive fire seasons confirm the reality that the wildfire suppression workload has grown in severity and complexity due to hotter, longer burning seasons and the expanding wildland-urban interface,” the lawmakers wrote. “These factors will only worsen future wildfire disasters so it is time that Congress and the executive branch proactively upgrade firefighting assets in order to protect the lives and property in communities facing these massive wildfires.”
In March, Bennet and Gardner helped lead the effort to pass into law a long-term, bipartisan funding solution to stabilize the Forest Service budget. The fire fix, taking effect in 2020, ends the backwards practice of “fire borrowing,” allowing the agency to restart many of the fire prevention projects delayed by uncertain funding from longer, hotter fire years. To ensure the Forest Service can most effectively fight wildfires, the senators noted that Congress must also immediately invest in modern firefighting assets.