Washington, D.C. – At today’s hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) questioned Mrs. Shawna Legarza, Director of Fire and Aviation Management at U.S. Forest Service, and Mr. Jeff Rupert, Director of the Office of Wildland Fire at the U.S. Department of the Interior, on funding for fighting and preventing rangeland fires. The Senator highlighted the need for rangeland fires, which account for 75% of all the acres burned in the West in the past two decades, to receive their fair share of federal wildfire funding.
“Do we need to be redirecting more of the federal funding to rangeland fires because there seems to be predominately more of those?” Cortez Masto asked. “Are we missing out here when it comes to addressing the funding that is necessary when it comes to rangeland fires?”
Mr. Jeff Rupert replied, “The funding that comes in, part of that appropriation goes to Forest Service and part of that goes to the [Department of the] Interior. Once it comes in to Interior, we allocate it to the various land management bureaus. The suppression part of that appropriation, so the big pot of money we use to respond to these big fires, is essentially agency neutral. That money, that suppression account, sits there and is used when it is needed. When there is a fire on federal jurisdiction and we respond to it…we’re drawing from essentially the same suppression account.”
Cortez Masto replied, “I only have so much time, but I do want to talk to you further about the funding [in the future]. I don’t think we should be competing. I think there should be enough resources for everyone when it comes to wildfires in forests and on rangeland.”
In addition, Cortez Masto highlighted a lack of coordination between ranchers, landowners, local firefighters and federal agencies in the West. She stated that these communication difficulties, particularly when it comes to incident commands, impact everything from wildfire preparedness to the response times for fighting new wildfires. In response to this concern, Cortez Masto asked the witnesses for their commitment “to work with me to address this issue in the State of Nevada as I pull roundtable discussions together with all the stakeholders, to see how we can do a better job working together to address wildfire.”
Mr. Jeff Rupert and Mrs. Shawna Legarza both answered, “absolutely.”
Full video of this exchange is available here.