WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Heinrich thanked the U.S. Forest Service and its partner agencies for providing resources for the Tres Lagunas and Thompson Ridge fires, currently burning in New Mexico. He said, "I want to start by thanking all of the incredible people who have responded from the Forest Service in New Mexico over the last week." Senator Heinrich has been focused on supporting the evacuees as well as the firefighters and first responders fighting the blazes.
During the hearing, Senator Heinrich also called on the committee to convene officials from the Office of Management and Budget to discuss their interpretation of the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act to ensure the law is being implemented as intended.
As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Senator Heinrich cosponsored the FLAME Act of 2009, which was signed into law on October 30, 2009. This law was designed to be a reserve fund to prevent other accounts from being raided to pay for firefighting efforts. The administration has treated the fund as part of the regular firefighting budget and has continued to take funds from important functions the federal agencies provide.
Senator Heinrich is cosponsoring an amendment to the Farm Bill that would authorize the U.S. Forest Service to enter into a large airtanker and aerial asset firefighting recapitalization pilot program. The multiyear lease contract would allow up to five aircraft for up to five years to add to the U.S. Forest Service's current firefighting fleet.
The amendment follows a letter then-Rep. Heinrich sent in 2012 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service expressing his strong support for investing in the next generation of large airtanker fleet, noting that many of today's aircraft currently used by the Forest Service are 50-60 years old and are rapidly approaching the end of their service lives. Senator Heinrich wrote in the 2012 letter, "Wildfires will forever remain part of our ecosystem, affecting our lands and communities. As such, we must ensure that our brave men and women fighting these wildfires have a robust fleet of firefighting assets at their disposal. Doing so will ultimately allow fire agencies to more quickly extinguish wildfires and meet our commitment to communities by protecting critical infrastructure and human life."