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Western senators ask USDA to utilize timber industry to reduce wildfire risks

Senators ask agency to let private sector create jobs, improve fire safety

November 9, 2012

A bipartisan group of western senators asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to support proactive forest management, utilizing the timber industry, to reduce fuel loads in wildfire-prone areas and improve community safety throughout the West. Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), John Thune (R-S.D.) signed onto the letter, led by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.).

"We are at a critical juncture. With historically overgrown forests, a continuing drought, vast stretches of beetle-kill forest and more people living in fire zones, we need to work expeditiously to promote ecological restoration. … We write to express our support for treating more acres in our states – particularly in the wildland-urban interface, and backcountry areas with critical infrastructure. Specifically, we ask you to consider expanding the timber management program, and prioritize timber sales," the senators wrote. "This capacity is critical to support local economies, safeguard drinking water supplies, and protect communities. … There has never been a better time to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, restore forest health, and create jobs while also helping us convert hazardous fuels into energy."

The Rocky Mountain West experienced one of the most severe fire seasons on record in 2012. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the Rocky Mountain region, which includes Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and most of South Dakota and Wyoming, endured 5,152 fires that scorched 1,186,965 acres.

Click here to read the senators’ letter.