With millions of acres of land burning throughout the American west, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Steve Daines (R-MT) have introduced the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act of 2020 (S. 4431). This bi-partisan legislation aims to put in place policies that will help mitigate wildfire damage through proactive approaches.
It may be unclear or even argued how exactly our country’s forests got here in the first place, but the point is wildfires were once a seasonal occurrence, but now they have become yearly catastrophes with fires compounding into complexes that leave the land and its inhabitants suffering.
One faction of the American people that arguably suffer the greatest from these recurring wildfires are farmers and ranchers. Once S. 4431 was introduced, Farm Bureau organizations across the western half of the country were quick to voice support.
“Our members, especially in the western United States, see a need to get something done legislatively to help move the needle in the right direction and to start doing some mitigation ahead of time to prevent these fires before they start,” stated Nicole Rolf, director of National Affairs for the Montana Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF).
Spearheaded by Rolf and her counterpart at the California Farm Bureau, a letter was written to both Senators Feinstein and Daines, which was sent out on Sept. 15. Other Farm Bureau organizations were invited to sign and all told, 13 western state organizations along with the American Farm Bureau Federation signed the letter in support.
“It was definitely a collaborative letter. Our western state Farm Bureaus try to do a lot together, just to emphasize how important things are to a very large section of the country and not just a state-by-state focus,” Rolf said.
In the letter, Farm Bureau praised S. 4431 for the provisions that aim to implement wildfire mitigation practices like mechanical thinning of forests and prescribed burning. The letter also noted support for the bill’s goal of streamlining permitting processes.
Rolf went on to say S. 4431 really focuses in on things that can be done proactively, like identifying some landscape level, collaborative wildfire risk reduction practices. In addition, the bill encourages the Forest Service to work more closely with state and local agencies. The lack of communication between state and national entities has been blamed in the past for the current state of wildfire affairs.
“It is great that this bill encourages local input and that it enacts some things that will streamline the process,” Rolf said.
With wildfires still actively burning and smoke visible across much of the county, the introduction of this bill could not be timelier. The fact it already has bi-partisan support in the Senate and a House equivalent already is a good indication this bill should be able to roll through Congress. On Sept. 24, three more Senators signed on as co-sponsors, so Farm Bureau is encouraged as the bill continues to gain momentum.
“We really do believe and hope that there is promise we will get this through and have some meaningful forest management and fire legislation before the end of the year,” Rolf said.
She acknowledges this will not be an overnight process, but the fact Congress, and ultimately the Forest Service, are listening means things are at least moving in the right direction.
“We are excited to see things moving and we appreciate that Senator Daines is making this a priority,” Rolf concluded.