U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today offered an amendment to the Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act of 2016 that would address the way prescribed burns are handled by federal agencies. Thune’s amendment, which was adopted by unanimous consent during today’s Senate Agriculture Committee markup, would require the federal government to cooperate with local and state fire officials before a prescribed burn is initiated or actually started when fire danger is at extreme levels. The amendment also requires the chief of the Forest Service to submit a report to Congress describing the number and locations of prescribed burns conducted by any federal agency.
Thune stressed the importance of federal-local collaboration ahead of any a prescribed burn determination, saying, “Local officials are going to know a little bit more about what the conditions are in the area.” Thune went on to say that had local officials been consulted prior to the initiation of the prescribed burns in question, the fires never would have been set in the first place.
Thune offered this amendment in response to the Pautre fire, a prescribed burn that was intended to cover just over 100 acres in northwestern South Dakota, but quickly turned into a 16,000 acre out-of-control fire that burned for several days and destroyed millions of dollars in property; and the Cold Brook Fire, which was set by the National Park Service and burned out of control on Wind Cave National Park property.
Last April, Thune introduced the Prescribed Burn Approval Act of 2015, a standalone bill that would require similar collaboration between federal, state, and local agencies.