Newhouse, caucus colleagues seek immediate protections against catastrophic wildfires

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) helped lead two dozen members of the Congressional Western Caucus in calling on the Biden administration to rescind the prohibition on prescribed fires to mitigate wildfire risks and immediately deploy existing active forest management tools to protect vulnerable communities from catastrophic wildfires.

“We… strongly urge the Forest Service to increase the pace and scale of desperately needed forest management activities,” the members wrote in a June 27 letter sent to U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Chief Randy Moore. “Decades of mismanagement have left our forests overgrown and fire-prone, and it is vital that we use essential tools — including prescribed burns — safely and effectively to restore these landscapes to natural fire intervals.”

The lawmakers’ letter responds to the USFS’s decision on May 20 to pause prescribed fire operations on all National Forest System lands in order to conduct a 90-day review of protocols, decision support tools, and practices.

“With this mandated nationwide pause… land managers across the country are now deprived of a critical tool that — when used safely — could currently be aiding efforts to reduce wildfire risk, restore forest health, and create resilient landscapes,” the members wrote. “With communities throughout the West already amidst a record-breaking wildfire season, we cannot afford to be losing any tools that can help prevent catastrophic fires during this wildfire season and in the future.”

In a separate statement released on June 27, Rep. Newhouse also pointed out that “one-size-fits-all approaches by the federal government do not work, and handcuffing our state and local land managers and foresters in the middle of wildfire season by taking away critical forest management tools is unconscionable.”

Due to the pause, Rep. Newhouse and his colleagues also wrote that the USFS should immediately utilize other tools, such as mechanical thinning, to continue treating the millions of acres of forest land at risk of experiencing catastrophic wildfires.

And to better understand the USFS’s prescribed fire operations, the lawmakers also requested a briefing on the 90-day review, as well as documents to support its prescribed fire operations. They requested the information be provided to them by July 11.