U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell presented the following statement before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on June 14, 2011.
Chairman Bingaman, Ranking Member Murkowski, and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to provide the status of the U.S. Forest Service’s wildfire response capabilities.
The Federal Government Agencies responsible for wildland fire fighting are perhaps the premier wildland firefighting organization in the world. Together, we (along with our State, local, and tribal government partners) work to maintain our operational excellence and to continually improve the safety and effectiveness of the fire management program. We take seriously our role in protecting people, property and valuable natural resources from wildfire. We are prepared for the 2011 wildland fire season and are staffed to provide appropriate, risk informed, and effective fire management. We will continue our commitment to aggressive initial attack of wildfires, where appropriate, with full attention to firefighter and public safety. Further, Federal engagement with State and local fire agencies is central to our collective success. Wildfires know no boundaries and we must work within an all-lands context to manage for and respond to wildfires. Our commitment to risk-informed, performance-based strategies will reduce exposure of firefighters and the public at large to unnecessary risk during fire incidents. Additionally, we will continue to provide assistance to communities that have been or may be threatened by wildfire to enable these communities to become more fire resilient and to reduce risks of fire.
- Restoring and Maintaining Resilient Landscapes
- Creating Fire-Adapted Communities
- Wildfire Response
The first component of the Cohesive Strategy involves the restoration of landscapes to help promote ecosystem health and resiliency. Wildland fire has a valuable natural role in many ecosystems, helping to regulate forest and rangeland composition. We continually strive to safely allow fire to play its natural role in creating resilient landscapes. However, many ecosystems across the country are out of balance and are in need of restoration. This ecological imbalance is manifested by an increased fuel accumulation and infestation by invasive pests and results in ecosystems that are more threatened by wildfire. A high-risk fire environment may result in adverse effects on natural resources and poses great risks for local communities. Added to the effects of climate change, these imbalanced ecosystems often lead to higher fire risk potential, which contribute to extreme fire behavior and severe fire effects, such as significant impacts to municipal water supplies.
By managing vegetation and restoring natural function and the resiliency of the land, we can positively influence fire behavior and minimize the negative impacts of fire. Through a combination of mechanical treatment and managed fire, we can improve the health of some fire-adapted ecosystems and prevent heavy accumulations of highly flammable fuels. In FY 2010, the Forest Service treated over 2 million acres for hazardous fuels reduction, with the majority in the Wildland Urban Interface. This fiscal year, we have already treated over 900,000 acres.
In addition, the Forest Service will continue to expand community engagement in restoration efforts on National Forest System land through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) Program. In FY 2010, 10 CFLR projects in Idaho, California, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Washington, Oregon, and Florida were funded by the CFLR Fund. CFLR projects are proposed through multi-stakeholder collaborative planning at a local level, nominated by the Regional Foresters to the Secretary, who takes into consideration recommendations made by an advisory committee.
This second component of the Cohesive Strategy relies on coordination and work already taking place among the federal agencies, states, and communities. Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) play an important role at the local level in providing specific risk-assessments to a county or community. CWPPs are a comprehensive wildfire planning tool for a community that is supported by the the Federal Government in partnership with State forestry agencies. By providing Federal support to state and local wildland fire agencies, we enhance our capability to work together to create these important plans and bring awareness of shared wildfire risk to communities.
- The International Association of Fire Chiefs, with help from the Federal Government, sponsored a forum to identify, share opportunities, and prioritize mitigation needs for a wide range of private sector partners.
- The Fire-Adapted Communities Project gathers all wildland urban interface mitigation tools into one toolbox to assist in the implementation of Community Wildfire Protection Plans by providing communities, organizations, fire departments, and the public with the information they need to reduce their risk of wildfire.
- The Ready, Set, Go! and Firewise projects are part of our Fire-adapted Communities program. With our State, local and NGO partners, we are reaching out to increase the 600 Firewise communities we have today to over 1,000 communities by 2013. By combining Firewise with the Ready, Set, Go! principles, we are working together to make communities in fire-prone areas more resilient to catastrophic loss.
In specified instances, the Department of Defense resources may be available to assist. Assistance also may be available under standing international agreements with Canada, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand if the Secretary determines that no firefighting resources within the United States are reasonably available.
Wildfire responses in the United States involve not only the resources of the Federal Government, but also employees from States, tribal governments, and local governments, contract crews, and emergency/temporary hires. For the 2011 fire season, the available firefighting forces – firefighters, equipment, and aircraft – are comparable to those available in 2010, more than 16,000 firefighters available from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior with approximately70% coming from the Forest Service. The levels of highly-trained firefighting crews, smokejumpers, Type 1 national interagency incident management teams (the most experienced and skilled teams) available for complex fires or incidents, and Type 2 incident management teams available for geographical or national incidents, also are comparable to those available in 2010. Additionally, the federal wildland fire fighting community work with State and local fire departments, which serve a critical role in our initial attack, and in many cases, extended attack success. The Forest Service uses its authority to provide State Fire Assistance funds to State partners to support State fire management capacity. We could not achieve the successes we have without these key partners.
- Up to 19 contracted large air tankers (comprising 90% of all large air tankers);
77% of the federal wildland fire response helicopters, including:
- 26 Type 1 heavy helicopters;
- 41 Type 2 medium helicopters on national contracts; and
- 52 Type 3 light helicopters on local or regional contracts;
- 15 Leased Aerial Supervision fixed-wing aircraft;
- Up to 12 Smokejumper aircraft;
- 2 heat detecting infrared aircraft;
- 2 single engine air tanker aircraft (SEATs); and
- 300 call-when-needed helicopters.
Current Wildland Fire Activity
Arizona Fires Update as of Testimony Submission – June 10, 2011