With wildfires roaring through the western United States, a U.S. Senate subcommittee is considering a bill that would implement a variety of wildfire-mitigation projects. A coalition of 13 Western state Farm Bureaus -- including the Utah Farm Bureau Federation -- and the American Farm Bureau Federation urged support for the bill today, as a means to address the region’s catastrophic wildfire crisis. 

“As evidenced by the over 6 million acres currently burning in the West, our forests are at extreme risk for reoccurring, catastrophic wildfire,” the Farm Bureau coalition said. “Backlogs in adequate management, coupled with drier, hotter conditions, have resulted in unhealthy, overly dense forests.” 

The Farm Bureau coalition wrote in support of the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act of 2020 by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Steve Daines, R.-Mont., which is scheduled was heard today by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining. A companion bill has been introduced in the House by Reps. Doug LaMalfa, R-CA01, and Jimmy Panetta, D-CA20. 

Farmers and ranchers across the West are “greatly impacted” by recurring, catastrophic wildfires, the Farm Bureau coalition said. First and foremost, fires create a risk to people—farmers, their employees and rural families—but fires also harm crops and livestock through flames, smoke and ash. The Farm Bureaus said the Feinstein-Daines bill would expedite forest management, accelerate post-fire restoration and reforestation, and remove hazardous fuels from national forests. 

“Our organizations believe that increasing the pace and scale of forest management activities, including mechanical thinning and controlled burning, reduces the threat of catastrophic fire, protects lives and communities, and helps safeguard Western natural resources and economies,” the Farm Bureau coalition said. “We are also very supportive of the provisions in the bill that would streamline permitting processes for hazardous fuels reduction projects and post-fire recovery efforts.” 

“Backlogs in adequate management coupled with drier, hotter conditions, have resulted in unhealthy, overly dense forests,” the letter states. “When fires inevitably occur, these conditions result in larger, more catastrophic fires that are difficult to control, destructive to both urban and rural communities and pose great threats to both private property and human life.”

While the legislation will help mitigate future fires, it will not address the immediate needs of farmers and ranchers suffering devastating losses from fires burning right now.

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said, “The images of wildfires are heartbreaking when you watch a family’s livelihood disappear, but the damage continues long after the flames are put out. Smoke can damage soil and spoil crops, causing losses for several months after a disaster. In addition to better management of our forests, we need to be prepared to help farmers who have lost everything. We encourage Congress to consider additional disaster funding to meet the needs of communities affected by the wildfires.”

The letter was signed by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the state Farm Bureaus from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. 

The Utah Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 35,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of nearly 5.6 million Farm Bureau members.