Following the Government Accountability Office's release today of a report on federal fire-fighting air assets, Mark Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, urged the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies to quickly adopt the GAO's recommendations as they update their air tanker fleets. Udall said his efforts have helped secure seven next-generation air tankers, but that more must be done to help fight and prevent wildfires, including the transfer and repurposing of excess military aircraft.
"The U.S. Forest Service, the Department of the Interior and the military have taken important steps to update their fire-fighting fleets and to work better across agency lines to quickly attack wildfires, but we need to do more. This report highlights several areas where the federal government can do a better job to prepare for modern mega-fires and protect communities from the growing threat of wildfire," Udall said. "In particular, I urge the military to quickly transfer its excess aircraft so they can be used as air tankers and to carry cargo and personnel to fire sites. This cost-neutral step would boost our wildfire response and ensure we are taking fiscally responsible steps to fight fires."
The GAO report, which Udall requested along with Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), makes three central recommendations, including urging the federal government to expand its efforts to collect data on fire-fighting aircraft performance and work to improve inter-agency cooperation and better identify what assets are needed and available.
Udall has been a leading voice for ensuring that Colorado and the West have adequate resources to prepare for the threat of wildfire, including fighting to ensure the U.S. Forest Service was able to cut through red tape and secure seven next-generation air tankers. He recently joined with Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) to introduce bipartisan legislation to allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to proactively work with states and localities on wildfire mitigation projects.
Udall recently helped lead a bipartisan letter to the U.S. Defense Department urging it to quickly transfer excess military aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service to bolster its fire-fighting fleet. The letter, sent in July, followed Udall's efforts earlier this year to press Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley to do everything in his agency's power to transfer excess aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service. Udall said these transfers are critical to updating the U.S. Forest Service's outdated, "Korean War-era" fleet.
Udall also led the effort to pass a bipartisan amendment to the U.S. Senate's 2014 budget to allocate $100 million more for wildland firefighting and he successfully secured federal funds to repair drinking-water supplies damaged by 2012's Waldo Canyon and High Park fires.