Legislation would help restore Arizona forests and increase federal firefighter pay
Yesterday, Arizona Senator Mark Kelly voted to pass legislation in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that includes substantial funding and policy initiatives he championed to address the wildfire crisis in Arizona and across the west.
The Energy Infrastructure Act, which was approved by the committee, is one piece of the larger bipartisan infrastructure package that is being spearheaded by a group of 22 Democrat and Republican senators including Senator Kelly. Earlier this month, President Biden endorsed the group’s proposed funding framework.
“This summer, more acres have burned in Arizona than in any other state to date,” said Senator Kelly. “For years, U.S. Forest Service programs like the Four Forests Restoration Initiative have struggled to complete forest restoration projects at a pace and scale needed to mitigate catastrophic wildfires. At the same time, we are experiencing record-level fire activity that is pressing the limits of wildland firefighters — heroes who deserve better pay and benefits. This legislation will help restore Arizona forests and enable our state to better prepare for, fight, and recover from wildfires.”
The bill passed by the committee authorizes $5.75 billion for forest management programs under the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior. This amount includes:
- $2.2 billion is for hazardous fuels treatments, which will fund mechanical thinning and prescribed fire projects across millions of acres of federal land and neighboring state, county, and tribal lands.
- $500 million would go to grants to help rural communities build defensible space around at-risk homes and reservoirs.
- $200 million for the federal Burned Area Recovery program to assist with post-fire recovery including erosion control projects like those needed near Globe, Arizona, following this year’s Telegraph Fire.
- $20 million is provided to the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University to help the U.S. Forest Service improve its planning and implementation of forest restoration projects.
- $600 million in proposed pay increases and additional hiring of federal wildland firefighters.
- $300 million to establish a working capital fund that will help cover contract costs associated with restoration projects like the Four Forests Restoration Initiative (4FRI).
- $400 million to support wood products facilities that process forest restoration materials
- $20 million for a program to use satellite data for the detection of early wildfire starts.
- $80 million to help adapt recreation sites that have experienced visitation beyond the use of carrying capacity.
- $8 million to help tribal communities collect and store firewood from national forest lands for home heating.
“As one of the three Southwest Ecological Restoration Institutes, the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University is grateful for the opportunity this funding provides to restore western forest landscapes and help mitigate the growing threat of severe wildfires,” said NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera. “NAU is uniquely positioned to utilize this funding to assist federal land management partners in need of additional capacity to assess, plan for, and monitor wildfire prevention and forest restoration treatments across the West.”
A copy of the bill passed by the committee can be found HERE.