ICYMI: Western Science Committee Dems Introduce Comprehensive Authorization Bill to Improve U.S. Preparedness, Resilience & Response to Wildfires

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 29, 2021

The National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program Act will identify & invest in R&D; coordinate wildfire science efforts across federal government’s science agencies

(Washington, D.C.) — U.S. Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), members of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, introduced H.R. 5781, National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program Act, a comprehensive science authorization bill that will identify and invest in research and development (R&D), set up warning and forecast systems, develop observation and sensing technologies, and standardize data collection efforts to improve the nation’s preparedness, resilience and response to wildfires.

The U.S. had its most active wildfire year on record in 2020, with 10.3 million acres burned, exceeding the 2000–2010 average by 51%. This year’s wildfire season is on pace to be similarly devastating.

“In my home state of California and across the West, fire seasons are getting longer and more severe. Congress must advance a whole-of-government approach to execute a coordinated and united federal agenda on wildfires that uses science-based and cost-effective measures to change the way we think about, plan for, and respond to wildfires,” said Representative Lofgren. “Our country’s ability to accurately anticipate, detect, monitor, and contain fires is largely dependent on the scientific information available and how accessible that information is. That’s why we’ve introduced the National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program Act to bring all of the federal government’s scientific resources to bear in helping prevent the loss of life and property from wildfires in America.”

“One of the most harmful impacts of climate change is longer and more intense wildfire seasons,” said Representative McNerney. “California is suffering from devastating wildfires that have resulted in significant loss of property and displacement, destruction of wildlife habitats, and lingering smoke that is harming our health. The federal government must have the tools and resources needed to meet the scale of this increasing crisis. That means investing in research and development, monitoring and forecasting, data collection, and understanding the impacts of wildfires so we can improve our science-based decision making, workforce, and efforts to avoid future megafires.”

“Last year, Colorado had its worst wildfire year on record. This year, Colorado experienced mudslides from last year’s fires and poor air quality from neighboring wildfires,” said Representative Perlmutter. “In order to better respond to these worsening threats to our communities, we need a more coordinated, whole of government approach to combat wildfires. The National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program Act will improve our understanding of wildfires so we can better prepare the technology and tools to both reduce the frequency and severity of wildfires and mitigate their devastating impacts.”

“The climate crisis is making wildfires more dangerous and frequent, putting lives, property, and the environment at risk,” said Representative Bonamici. “The National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program Act will help protect Oregon and communities across the country by increasing our ability to stop wildfires before they happen and better respond when they do.”

Year-To-Date

According to the National Interagency Fire Center:

· From January 1 to October 25, 2021 there were 48,048 wildfires, compared with 46,466 in the same period in 2020.

· About 6.5 million acres were burned through October 25, 2021 compared with 8.5 million during the same period in 2020.

· As of October 25, four states reported six large fires, including three in California and one in Oregon.

About the Bill

Below is a summary of National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program Act, and the full text of the bill can be downloaded here.

Summary

H.R. 5781 would establish a National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program with the purpose of achieving major measurable reductions in the losses of life and property from wildland fires through a coordinated federal effort to:

· improve the understanding and prediction of the fire environment, wildland fires, associated smoke, and their impacts, including in the wildland-urban interface (WUI); on communities, buildings and other infrastructure; and social and economic impacts;

· develop and encourage the adoption of science-based and cost-effective measures to prevent and mitigate wildland fire and associated smoke impacts; and

· improve the understanding and mitigation of the impacts of climate change and variability on wildland fire risk, frequency, and severity.

In addition, the Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) would be tasked with establishing an Interagency Coordinating Committee on Wildland Fire Risk Reduction. This Committee would be co-chaired by the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and include over 10 relevant federal agencies as members.

Responsibilities of program agencies would include:

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):

· to carry out R&D on community needs, buildings, materials, firebrands in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) and other areas within the agency’s expertise;

· to support development of model building codes and fire codes, standard test methods, construction, retrofit best practices, and more; and

· to coordinate Federal post-wildland fire investigations of fires in the WUI.

National Science Foundation (NSF):

· to support many of the basic science needs on wildland fire science, including prediction of fire risks, development and improvement of tools and technologies that enable and accelerate the understanding of wildland fires, understanding of fire risk messaging to communities, and more; and

· to support undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and graduate and postdoctoral fellowships and traineeships in relevant fields of study

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

· to conduct research, observations, modeling, forecasting, prediction, and historical analysis of wildland fires to improve understanding of wildland fires, and associated fire weather and smoke, for the protection of life and property and for the enhancement of the national economy;

· to develop and provide accurate, timely, and effective warnings and forecasts of wildland fires and fire weather events;

· to provide impact-based decision support services, seasonal climate predictions, and smoke forecasts;

· to establish a Fire Weather Testbed to develop fire weather products and services for implementation; and

· to support wildland fire and smoke research and development program.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):

· to support public outreach, first-responders, and community preparedness, including the development of risk assessment tools and effective mitigation techniques for wildland fires, wildland fire-related data collection and analysis, public outreach and information dissemination related to wildland fires and wildland fire risk, and promotion of the adoption of wildland fire preparedness and risk reduction measures;

· to promote better buildings and retrofit practices within the design and construction industry; and

· to translate new information and research findings into best practices and conduct outreach to improve training of wildland firefighters.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA):

· to support relevant basic and applied scientific research, ensure use of all relevant Earth observations data, and explore and apply novel tools and technologies;

· to support basic and applied wildland fire research and modeling activities, including competitively-selected research;

· to develop and demonstrate a unified concept of operations for the safe and effective deployment of diverse air capabilities in active wildland fires; and

· to develop and demonstrate affordable and deployable sensing technologies.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

· to improve the understanding of wildland fire smoke impacts on communities, water, and outdoor and indoor air quality, plume characteristics and chemical transformations, and contribution of wildland fire emissions to climate forcing emissions;

· to develop and improve tools, sensors, and technologies to accelerate the understanding, monitoring, and prediction of wildland fires and smoke exposure; and

· to improve communication of wildland fire and smoke risk reduction strategies to the public.

Department of Energy (DOE):

· to research and develop tools, techniques, and technologies for withstanding and addressing wildland fire impact on energy infrastructure, providing real-time or near-time awareness of wildland fire risks to operation of energy infrastructure, early detection of malfunctioning electrical equipment, assisting with the planning and execution of the same and timely restoration of power, and improving electric grid safety and resilience during concurrent extreme weather events.

U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology