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Letter to Tom Tidwell, United States Forest Service Chief

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Unknown

With the wildfire season off to an early start in Colorado, Mark Udall today wrote to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to express his concerns about whether the agency's aging air tanker fleet is capable of keeping Coloradans safe in a timely and effective manner. In the letter, Udall recognizes how the tankers play an important role in providing air support to wildland firefighters as they contain fires on the ground - but with fewer and aging tankers in the current fleet, Udall stresses the importance of having a reliable fleet to adequately address wildfire threats across the state and country.

"Though air tankers are only one part of the wildfire-response effort, they play a critical role in the initial attack. With an aging fleet that has dwindled from 44 air tankers in 2002 to 11 this year, and will continue to decline in the years to come, I am unconvinced the USFS's current air tanker fleet is prepared to adequately address an immense wildfire or even what is sure to be a long fire season," Udall wrote. "Again, I appreciate the attention USFS has already paid to this critical issue, but it is essential that the USFS be prepared today for a fire season that is already looming large in Colorado."

Drought, dry and windy conditions, and a bark beetle epidemic that has turned forests into tinder have created conditions ripe for wildfire across the Mountain West. Udall has been a big proponent for securing resources to address wildfire threats and the beetle epidemic, using his position on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to ensure firefighting and forest management agencies have the proper resources for keeping communities safe. Last year, Udall requested a scientific study on the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire in Boulder County that found that air tankers were used very effectively during the fire. The USFS report lays out the factors that influenced the most expensive fire in Colorado history so that our government agencies and homeowners can better prepare for future fire emergencies.

The text of the letter follows:

Dear Chief Tidwell:

With 98 percent of Colorado under drought conditions and the fire season tragically having started early this year, I write regarding my growing concerns with the U.S. Forest Service's (USFS) aging air tanker fleet.

As you know, the Lower North Fork Fire already burned 4,100 acres in a fast-moving wildfire that took the lives of three Coloradans this year. While I applaud the remarkable work of the wildland firefighters, I have larger concerns about our capacity to respond to future fires, particularly with many aircraft in the air tanker fleet nearing the final years of their lifespan.

Though air tankers are only one part of the wildfire-response effort, they play a critical role in the initial attack. With an aging fleet that has dwindled from 44 air tankers in 2002 to 11 this year, and will continue to decline in the years to come, I am unconvinced the USFS's current air tanker fleet is prepared to adequately address an immense wildfire or even what is sure to be a long fire season. Given the very real and present danger of wildfire in Colorado and throughout the drought-ridden West, and the very possible event of multiple wildfires in different parts of the country, an aging fleet may be ill-prepared to respond with the necessary air support.

Again, I appreciate the attention USFS has already paid to this critical issue, but it is essential that the USFS be prepared today for a fire season that is already looming large in Colorado. I stand ready to work with you to do whatever is necessary to protect our capacity to fight fire and ensure the safety of Coloradans.

Sincerely,
Mark Udall


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