By Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto
The threat of wildfire is one Nevadans live with year-round. In the last decade, Nevada has been burning at a record pace. Just last year, Nevada experienced 138 fires that scorched over 1 million acres of land, making it the most extreme and devastating wildfire season on record. Unfortunately, another potentially destructive wildfire season threatens Nevadans, as our rural neighbors and friends are particularly at risk.
The 35-day government shutdown severely hampered wildfire management operations in Nevada. Typically, federal agencies in Nevada use the winter months to hire and train firefighters in advance of the upcoming fire season and to perform fire prevention work — like tree removal and controlled burns — that are more difficult or dangerous to carry out during active fire seasons. But for 35 days, these operations were at a standstill. State agencies did what they could to keep prevention efforts going, but nonetheless, training and prevention programs were placed on hold and furloughed workers couldn’t tend to thousands of acres in peril.
When natural disasters strike, the economic and environmental consequences to the people and communities impacted can be severe. Our farmers and ranchers are the backbone of many rural county economies, and our public lands are also critical economic drivers, whether for grazing, energy development or conservation. That’s why once we reopened the government, I held this Administration accountable and asked them to immediately address the dire consequences of delayed wildfire preparedness. Along with my fellow Western state Senators, I requested the U.S. Forest Service share the anticipated impacts of the shutdown on wildfire and hazardous fuels management. I also joined in writing a letter to the President demanding he protect our rural communities that often bear the brunt of devastation from wildfires. Just last month, the Trump Administration again proposed devastating funding cuts to critical wildfire prevention and fire restoration projects. In response, I joined my Western Senate colleagues to combat this reckless proposal and demand that he restore the levels of funding for wildfire preparedness.
This vital work takes all of our combined efforts. And I’m glad to also partner with ranchers, farmers and environmentalists to protect Nevada’s public lands and communities. In October, I visited Elko and Eureka Counties to meet with the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association and local ranchers to brainstorm on how the federal government can best support wildfire fighting and management. Their message was clear: local communities know how best to prevent, fight and recover from wildfires. What they need is federal support to ensure they have what they need for it. I couldn’t agree more.
That’s why I co-introduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act last Congress. If passed, this legislation would have ended the process of “fire borrowing” that requires the U.S. Forest Service to take funds from critical areas like fire prevention to put toward the cost of fighting fires. I’ll continue to fight in the Senate for these critical funds and to ensure that we’re acting on legislation that ensures Western states threatened by wildfires, like Nevada, have every support necessary to prevent and combat wildfires. By investing in these efforts now, we can save lives, protect livelihoods and cut long-term costs by preventing wildfires before they happen.
As our wildfire seasons grow longer and drier, I’ll continue to fight this Administration’s attempts to undermine the ability of Western states to prevent wildfires. As your Senator, I’ll continue to fight to protect Nevada’s seventeen counties, and our rural communities that are often at higher risk. I admire the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect people, property and local livelihoods. I’ll continue to partner with fire departments in Nevada to annually promote fire season preparedness. In my conversations with our first responders, one thing that is clear is that they need more access to advanced technologies, resources and federal money to keep us safe and prevent fires before they start. That’s why I co-sponsored the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act to ensure firefighters have access to the state-of-the-art technology they need to combat wildfires. Innovative technology empowers firefighters to not only respond to emergencies faster, but also contain fires with greater control. We’ve already seen the benefits of investing in smart technology through the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, which dedicated $415 million in federal dollars in 2016 for smart technology to monitor the lake, fight invasive species and combat wildfires.
I also appreciate the work of our state officials who are acting to combat wildfires. I know that Assemblywoman Swank and Senator Goicoechea are leading the charge to find innovative solutions that contain wildfires early and make our landscapes more fire resilient. Since 2017, the Nevada State Legislature has been working together in a bipartisan way to convene local, state, federal and tribal governments to assess best practices in early responses and environmental protection, as well as evaluate ways to reduce wildfire fuels. That work is continuing in this session of the legislature, and I’m grateful to leaders on both sides of the aisle, and across the state, for all they’re doing to protect our communities and for making it known to me, and the entire federal delegation, what the needs are so that we can partner together effectively. The degree of communication and cooperation between these agencies is exceptional, pooling expertise and resources from every corner of the Silver State. It’s that example of partnership between agencies, stakeholders and government officials that inspires my work – and it’s those voices and experiences that I bring with me to Washington as I fight for more support for Nevadans to ensure we’re doing all we can to stop wildfires before they start.