WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, during a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the U.S. Forest Service's fiscal year 2016 budget request, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) continued his fight to reform federal wildfire policy. He urged the need for more resources to restore New Mexico's national forests to healthy conditions in order to reduce the cost of catastrophic wildfires. The committee heard testimony from U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell.
Senator Heinrich is a cosponsor of S. 326, the Stewardship End Result Contracting Improvement Act, which would make it easier for federal land managers and businesses to partner on long-term, large-scale forest treatment. He is also a cosponsor of S.235, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015, which would treat the largest fires -- roughly 1 percent of annual fires -- as natural disasters, and fund firefighting efforts from a disaster account similar to the one that funds hurricane and other natural disaster relief efforts.
During the hearing, Senator Heinrich also called for solutions to local businesses and organizations that face significant delays when applying for recreational permits on national forests. Recreational outings serve as educational opportunities for students and are therapeutic for veterans recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Later in the hearing, Senator Heinrich shared concerns about recreational facilities in New Mexico's national forests that had to close in previous years because of the lack of U.S. Forest Service operational and maintenance resources. Small businesses near national forests are often the ones hit the hardest as they depend on revenue from forest users.