U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, along with nine Western Democrats, sought answers yesterday on the planning efforts of the U.S. Forest Service to protect communities and firefighters heading into the upcoming 2020 wildfire season amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“The impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), combined with high levels of drought throughout the West, will create unprecedented wildland firefighting challenges and may hurt numerous rural areas across the country, making the 2020 wildfire season potentially one of the most threatening seasons to date,” the senators wrote. “Beyond the basic need to ensure the protection of communities, critical infrastructure, and firefighter safety, we recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic is placing unprecedented demands upon agencies that provide essential public services.”
The senators requested answers on Forest Service plans to:
- coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and state and local health departments to ensure communities impacted by wildfire smoke have access to health care and related supports;
- maintain core operations, while limiting exposure to and transmission of the virus to agency employees and non-agency personnel; continue planning and implementing forest management and hazardous fuels reduction activities to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, while preventing the spread of COVID-19; and more.
Wyden and Merkley were joined by U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., in a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen.
A full copy of the letter can be found here.