Bi-Partisan group of Senators lobbying to prepare for wildfire s - KMSP-TV

Bi-Partisan group of Senators lobbying to prepare for wildfire season

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Next month will mark two years since the devastating wallow fire burned 841 square miles in northeast Arizona making it the largest in state history.

How, a bi-partisan group of Senators is lobbying for a bill that they hope can help reduce the damage and the cost of fighting the next big wildfire.

In Eager, the Vaagen Mill is up and running  but may not be for much longer. Thanks to the Wallow Fire the timber supply in the area is dwindling.

The mill employs about 50 people and depends on contracts with the U.S. Forest Service. But the process is time-consuming, sometimes taking as long as 18 months before they can start cutting.
"If we are not able to get out in the woods more actively and treat the forest we won't be here," said Curtis Vaagen.
Senator Jeff Flake and his democratic counterpart from New Mexico are hoping to speed up the process.
"The bottom line is there is not enough money in the treasury to go out and have the federal government do everything that the private industry is helping the government with," said Senator Jeff Flake.
The senators toured the mill this morning they also met with forest service officials and environmentalists.
"When we do have big fires we have to to find a way to treat those like other natural disasters so that we are not eating the whole forest service budget alive to fight those fires, and we are not doing the planning that feeds this industry year over year and maintains this industry," said Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.
That planning can also protect homes. The Wallow Fire burned over those mountains and came very close to many homes here in the town Alpine but thank to a program to clear the forest surrounding the edge of the city; many of those homes were saved.
The senators could clearly see that as they looked at the Wallow Fire's scar near Alpine.

In Alpine, they were also joined by representatives The Nature Conservancy, an environmental group.  

"We would like to make this forest as resilient as possible and by thinning out this forest will see that the canopy remains intact when these fires hit, and that is our primary goal," said Sue Sitko with the group.

"Some people kind of portray it as the forest industry just goes in on its own and gets the product out of the forest. It is always done in a collaborative effort with the forest service. Particularly in Arizona and New Mexico because the federal government owns so much of the land," said Sen. Flake.

But when something will actually get through Congress is not clear, the senators know that with supply dwindling and another fire season coming that time is running out.
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