In order to improve wildfire management strategies, members of the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee met Tuesday to examine methods for combatting the growing threat posed by larger and more uncontrollable wildfires.
“We’ve experienced significant wildfires over the past 15 years,” Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who serves on the committee, said, citing the devastation from the 2013 Black Forest Fire, the Waldo Canyon Fire of 2012 and the destructive 2002 Hayman Fire.
Committee Chairwoman Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said it was important to address budgetary issues associated with combatting wildfires, but added that it was also essential to more effectively streamline firefighting efforts as fires grow in size and threaten more communities.
“The Forest Service has claimed that the wildfire problem is a budget problem, but that’s probably an oversimplification,” Murkowski said.
Gardner estimated that 52 million acres of private and family lands across the country are at high risk of wildfires, while 93 million acres of public land are also deemed at high risk. Of this total, Gardner said that 1.3 million acres of at-risk private lands were located within Colorado.
In order to better combat fires and help mitigate the budgetary impacts of prevention efforts, Gardner said more leeway should be granted to private landowners to combat wildfires approaching their lands. Private landowners are limited by the U.S. Forest Service in how far away from their property they can combat wildfires.
Gardner cited the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad as an underutilized resource, saying its firefighting fleet is “restricted to activities within a right-of-way they’re allowed to act in,” by the Forest Service, and more flexible rules would aid firefighting.
email@example.com. Edward Graham is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.