March 16, 2023 |
Photo – Mullen Fire – Bigfoot99 file photo
Wyoming is the only western state to be omitted from the USDA and Forest Service’s 10-year strategy to combat wildfires across the American West. The state’s congressional delegation are not taking the exclusion lightly.
On Wednesday, U.S. Senators John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and Representative Harriet Hageman sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service Chief Randy Moore criticizing their agencies for failing to include Wyoming in the 10-year plan.
Wyoming is home to eight National Forests with over nine million acres of wilderness. Yet, Wyoming is the only Western state left off the list of states included in the 10-year federal plan to combat wildfires.
The federal plan was announced in January of this year. Wyoming was noticeably left off the maps and deleted from the speeches that Washington policy makers, like the Forest Service Chief made.
In their letter, the delegation also calls out the agency heads for excluding Wyoming membership from the recently formed, Congressionally-mandated, wildfire commission.
The letter states, “According to recent Forest Service estimates, more that four million acres in Wyoming are at either “high” or “very high” risk to catastrophic wildfire.” Over half of the at-risk acreages, 2.4 million acres, are on National Forests located in Wyoming.
The Wyoming delegation notes that the acreage identified as at risk include or neighbor Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, as well as their gateway communities. The at-risk areas also contain important watersheds that are part of the headwaters to the Colorado River.
Over the last five years, Wyoming has experienced numerous wildfires, including four that were severe enough to warrant emergency assistance from FEMA’s Fire Assistance Grant Program. The Medicine Bow National Forest burned in both 2018 and 2020. The delegation notes in its letter that “the Mullen megafire devastated 175,000 acres on Medicine-Routt National Forests, while the RR316 blaze scorched thousands of our rangeland acres in Carbon County.”
In 2020 alone, nearly 340,000 acres burned in Wyoming, an area larger than Grand Teton National Park.
The delegation notes that urgent work is needed to restore high-risk acres to good health to protect critical infrastructure and energy-resources—identified by Washington bureaucrats as priorities in developing the fire control plan.
The letter ends with the delegation urging the agency heads to include Wyoming within its 10-year wildfire strategy. The state’s congressional leadership described the matter as an “extremely important issue.”