A Call To Action: Forest Service leaders urge Congress to prioritize wildfire management
The U.S. Forest Service has responded to 45,000 fires already this year, with a 98 percent success rate. However, that other 2 percent accounts for a lot of devastation.
Right now, there are roughly 63,000,000 acres at medium to high risk of wildfire and at least 80,000,000 acres of Forest Service land in need of treatment.
According to Forest Service Chief, Randy Moore, “America’s forests are in a state of emergency, and it’s time to treat them like one. This should be a call to action and it takes work on two fronts.”
Moore says that his first priority is bringing stability to the workforce by improving pay and conditions for current employees and filling the gaps.
“We have a lot of vacant positions. We also have a lot of detailers in key leadership positions, and what that does is erodes the quality and continuity of decisions that need to be made on the ground,” he explains.
He also called on Congress to prioritize active forest management: “We’ll never hire enough firefighters, we’ll never buy enough engines or aircrafts to fight these fires. We must actively treat fires-- that’s what it takes to turn a situation around. We must shift from small-scale treatments and spread out and landscapes to strategic science-based treatments across boundaries at the size of the problem.”
Moore says that improving management will require modernizing the system.
“This includes improving the use of technology,” he adds. “It also includes upgrading our models and systems for decision making and strengthening our cooperative relationships.”
He told the committee that the Forest Service needs to treat 20 million acres over the next ten years to make the necessary improvements to reduce wildfires.
The latest drought monitor shows that conditions worsened across the west. For the water year closing at the end of September, the 2021-2022 period will go down as one of the driest in portions of California and Nevada. That is where many locations are at 50 percent or less of their normal values for the time period.
A lot of unfavorable weather conditions have been contributing to those fires and drought conditions, but there are some weather changes in-store for some key ag areas.
“We are looking at a multi-day rainfall event across the southern and central Great Plains that should help reserve some of the problems that have developed in terms of topsoil moisture shortages and just general heat for this time of the year... We’re going to turn that around, and it looks like five-day rainfall totals could reach 2-4 inches or more from Texas, northward through Oklahoma, Kansas, and into easter Nebraska. So, that entire region, roughly covering the central and southern Great Plains, should greatly benefit from this pattern change,” according to USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey.
He says that this will be much-needed moisture because winter wheat planting has been delayed by dry conditions in some areas.