(This article first appeared on Wildfire Today)
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, the Republican Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, yesterday sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt encouraging them to adopt an aggressive posture for fighting wildfires during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Currently, the federal government along with state and local governments across the country are mobilized to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. And now those same government entities, already stretched thin, are preparing to fight wildland fire in a world where COVID-19 still rages,” Murkowski wrote. “This problem could be particularly pronounced for regions like the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, which only received 40 percent of anticipated snowpack levels this winter.”
Murkowski urged the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to put fires out fast and early, and to limit the practice of intentionally allowing some wildfires to burn on landscapes. She also encouraged the agencies to ensure a sufficient number of aircraft are available to play a greater role on initial attack and emphasized the importance of protecting the health and safety of wildland firefighters.
“This season, these heroes will be waging a war against wildfires in at-risk communities in addition to a pandemic that threatens their families,” Murkowski wrote. “I understand that both Departments are producing guidance to ensure the public health and use of social distancing of firefighters who are deployed in the field. You are no doubt managing firefighter safety as a top priority and I encourage you to continue doing so.”
One of the roles of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is to oversee the four primary federal land management agencies — Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fish & Wildlife Service, and Forest Service.
Click here to view the full letter from Senator Murkowski.