A Federal Plan To Deal With Devastating Wildfires Is Unveiled

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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Several major players involved in the management of U.S. forests revealed new strategies for fighting the wildfires that have raged across the western part of the country.

During a Thursday press conference at the U.S. Capitol, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue spoke alongside a bipartisan coalition of senators as they revealed the government’s updated approach to dealing with wildfires. The subject has become a major issue as fires continue to burn the West Coast, destroying property, wildlife and forcing thousands to flee their homes.

Essentially, federal authorities hope to streamline their collaboration with local government when combating dangerous fires.

“We cannot do this ourselves,” said Perdue. “Today, I’m announcing a new and smarter, more aggressive, approach for accomplishing this from the ground up. We are going to convene at the state level — jointly with our state partners — jointly reviewing forest conditions and communities at risk. And developing and prioritizing projects together.

Perdue’s comments come as both federal and state departments have struggled to contain a number of fires on the West Coast and elsewhere in the region. Montana was hit with the worst wildfires in U.S. history last year, with hundreds of miles burned. Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines, who spoke in support of the new measures, said 1.4 million acres burned in his state in 2017 and hundreds of thousands burned this year. Washington state has faced the same battles. (RELATED: Ryan Zinke Shifts The Wildfire Debate From Global Warming To Anti-Logging ‘Environmental Terrorists’)

Federal lawmakers now want a more effective solution.

“I flew through Seattle yesterday,” said Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, speaking right after Perdue, “You could taste the smoke in the air. You could see it all throughout — not only in Seattle, but it was all up into Canadian and Alaskan air as well. Our need to  be working together, our need to be cooperating in these faces is so incredibly important.”

Sens. Maria Cantwell and Ron Wyden, both Democrats representing Washington state, also spoke at the conference. Wyden stressed that these current fires “aren’t your grandfather’s fires,” suggesting that they are hotter and bigger than they’ve been in history.

While the entire topic of the meeting revolved around how to deal with fires, members of the media still pressed Perdue on how climate change might be involved. The Agriculture secretary pointed to a graph that showed periods of heating and cooling cycles taking place over many years — indicating that this is a natural phenomenon. But he made clear that the press conference was about how to best fight fires, not debate the exact causes of them.

“If you want to debate the cause, you can do that. We are about focusing on what we can do today in order to mitigate the impact of longer fire seasons, hotter fires, prior conditions and that way. That’s what this is really about,” Perdue said.

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