By Mary Scott
News outlets across the country are already predicting a severe 2021 wildfire season. According to a local news outlet in Arizona, “This year poses to be similar if not worse given current wildland conditions and an abundance of fuels across Arizona, especially in the northern regions.” Unfortunately, Arizona isn’t the only state preparing for a turbulent season ahead.
Congress has once again turned its attention to what is now informally known as a ‘fire year.’ On Thursday, April 29, 2021, the House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands convened for a hearing on wildfire. During his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chair Joe Neguse (D-CO) stated, “Wildfires today are nearly a year-round risk, burning larger areas at higher intensity, and this is only projected to increase as the climate continues to warm.”
Members of the Senate have also turned their gaze toward the issue. Last week, the Senate held two hearings on forestry and climate. On Thursday, May 20, 2021, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing, titled “Forest Management, Forest Products, and Carbon.” On the same day, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee held a hearing, titled “Federal, State and Private Forestlands: Opportunities for Addressing Climate Change.” These hearings covered the unique roles that private, state and federal forested lands can have as we work to recognize the role that forests can play in addressing climate change, which will help solve issues with wildfire concerns and fuel loads.
NACD appreciates Congress’s attention to this critical issue. Last year, NACD supported several pieces of legislation aimed at bolstering wildfire and forestry management, including supporting the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act introduced by Senators Daines (R-MT) and Feinstein (D-CA). As the new Congress continues and these and other Members of Congress continue to discuss ways that the federal government can help assist in active forestry management, NACD looks forward to further engagement to inform Congress of the role conservation districts can play in this area.
Throughout the month of May, NACD has also convened three regional Winds, Water and Wildfire Summits across the country. Disasters such as high winds, wildfires and flooding cause significant damage to natural resources across the country. Conservation districts are uniquely positioned to assist communities with planning and preparedness before, during and after disasters. The sessions allowed attendees to see how conservation districts are working together with all community members to conquer the challenges facing private landowners. The summits also outlined the three goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy.
The Cohesive Strategy is a three-phased approach to intergovernmental planning, risk analysis and collaboration by federal, state, local and tribal governments and non-governmental partners and public stakeholders. Thorough engagement by stakeholders throughout this effort now forms the foundation for wildland fire and community preparedness in our country.
Cohesive Strategy Goals:
- Resilient Landscapes;
- Fire Adapted Communities; and
- Safe and Effective Wildfire Response.
Each summit was tailored to the specific needs of each region. For follow up, each region has developed several action items to continue this work. Recordings of the summits may be accessed on NACD’s YouTube Channel.