WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) participated in a key Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on wildfire management in the midst of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The impacts of COVID-19, combined with high levels of drought throughout the West, will create unprecedented wildland firefighting challenges and may hurt numerous rural areas across the country, making the 2020 wildfire season potentially one of the most threatening seasons to date.
During the hearing, Senator Heinrich questioned U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry John Phipps on the lack of coordination of COVID-19 testing between the U.S. Forest Service and the New Mexico Department of Health. As fire season escalates in New Mexico, Senator Heinrich emphasized the need for a comprehensive testing strategy that protects the health of firefighters on the frontlines and mitigates the spread of COVID-19.
Senator Heinrich also questioned Deputy Chief Phipps on the strategy for the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), urging the need for agency collaboration with the National Interagency Fire Center. This comes as Senator Heinrich has already heard concerns from constituents that work in wildland firefighting and are concerned with a lack of PPE resources.