Senator John Thune
Living in South Dakota, we know that the elements of nature can be our greatest friend and also our gravest enemy. On farms and ranches across the state it is not uncommon to see controlled burns in pastures. In these summer months, many of us enjoy roasting marshmallows and hotdogs over an open campfire, and lighting fireworks around the Fourth of July. Yet it takes just a small increase in the wind from the wrong direction, an extra-dry season, or careless eye on the campfire for small fires to spread quickly out-of-control.
On the western side of the state we have become especially concerned about fire season with the spread of the pine beetle epidemic in the Black Hills. Trees infested by pine beetles are especially susceptible to fires, which can move quickly putting life and property in danger. Earlier this year, in an effort to help combat forest fires, I sent a letter to Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, encouraging the agency to consider the use of the Air Force’s soon-to-be retired C-27J aircraft to fight wildland fires in the Rocky Mountain Region. Not only would the aircraft help provide the Forest Service with the tools needed to fight wildland fires, but the operation of these aircraft could also provide multiple benefits to our economy if stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base. I have also introduced legislation to cut red tape and prioritize pine beetle treatments within the U.S. Forest Service.Equipping the brave men and women who fight our wildland fires with the best possible tools is just one important part of fire safety and prevention. Each of us must do our part to ensure that we help preserve and protect some of our country’s greatest national treasures and the lives and personal property of our neighbors.