O’Halleran Urges Action On Forestry Management During Hearing on Wildfires

October 2, 2020 by Sean Trambley
A trike stands near the burnt remains of a building destroyed by a wildfire near the Lake Detroit Market in Detroit, Ore. (Mark Ylen/Albany Democrat-Herald via AP)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D- Ariz., criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture during a recent House hearing on the western wildfires, saying “forest management has long been on the backburner at the federal level.”

Halleran made his observation during a hearing of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry.

Earlier this month the representative called for the hearing to explore the federal role in wildfire response, recovery, and reduction of fire risk. 

His concern, he said, is that “If not properly managed and planned for, wildfires will continue to result in tragic loss of life and massive destruction of infrastructure, natural resources, and watersheds.”

Last Congress, O’Halleran served as one of the main authors of the 2018 Farm Bill, a sweeping agricultural legislative package re-negotiated every five years, which has had an impact on fire prevention and risk reduction, but faced delays in implementation.

This year, Arizona has seen over seven hundred thousand acres lost to wildfire. A record 2.2 million acres have burned in California, killing eight Americans.

“There is no question that the USDA has let this critical issue slide out of priority view, which is absolutely unacceptable,” O’Halleran said. “I am working to hold the agency accountable to Americans, emphasize the actions that must be taken to address climate change at the federal level, and continue to bang the drum on critical projects like 4FRI that must be managed properly to ensure forest stewardship improves.”

The Four Forest Restoration Initiative, or 4FRI, is a collaborative, landscape-scale initiative designed to restore fire-adapted ecosystems in Arizona. 

“As a key player in Arizona’s forest and water management since moving to the state in the 1990s, I have seen firsthand the struggle the 4FRI initiative has faced to get the necessary clearance needed to properly maintain our forests,” said O’Halleran. “In the 2018 Farm Bill, I helped implement a 20-year contract process to more effectively allow contractors to borrow money and create more accountability at the Forest Service.”

During the hearing, O’Halleran asked several questions, touching on a variety of issues, including funding for fire suppression efforts, controlled burns by the USDA, Wildlife Urban Interfaces, and how stewardship contracts and projects have improved forest resiliency. 

Video of the hearing can be found here.

Following the hearing, O’Halleran joined Senator Martha McSally in leading the Arizona delegation on a letter to the U.S. Forest Service highlighting the urgent need for action on 4FRI.

“Entire communities, industries, and businesses across the state are waiting on the 4FRI project to move forward,” wrote the lawmakers.“The steadily increasing risk of wildfire combined with the economic uncertainty caused by prolonged delays means it is critically important for the Forest Service to expeditiously award this Phase 2 contract.”

Read the full letter here.

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