Padilla, Luján Spearhead Bill to Strengthen Federal Wildfire Science to Combat Increasing Wildfire Threat

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) led a coalition of Senators in introducing the National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program Act, a comprehensive science authorization bill that will identify and invest in research and development (R&D), set up warning and forecast systems, develop observation and sensing technologies, and standardize data collection efforts to improve the nation’s preparedness, resilience, and response to wildfires.

In 2020, the U.S. tied its most active wildfire year on record, with 10.1 million acres burned. Since the National Interagency Fire Center began compiling data in 1983, the average annual land area scorched by wildfires has more than tripled, coinciding with a steady increase in annual temperature and exacerbated by worsening drought conditions in the West. California has seen the seven largest fires in state history in just the last four years. Collectively, these devastating fires have burned over 2.5 million acres of land and destroyed or damaged over 30,000 structures. In severe cases, wildfires have been responsible for the destruction of entire California communities.

“As wildfires continue growing more frequent and more dangerous, we need a whole of government approach to increase preparedness, make our communities more resilient, and support our firefighters on the front lines of combating this crisis,” said Senator Padilla. “The National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program Act will allow our nation’s science agencies to leverage their vast expertise to better forecast potential fires, monitor fires once they ignite, and provide critical data to first responders. This is a commonsense approach to help us stay one step ahead of wildfires and help prevent catastrophic losses that we’ve become too familiar with during fire seasons.”

“The federal science agencies have a crucial role to play in improving how the nation understands, anticipates, and responds to wildland fires, but several of these agencies currently have no defined authority or mandate to do so,” said Senator Luján. “This legislation addresses this gap and improves the entire Federal approach to wildland fires. The wildfires currently raging in northern New Mexico are the largest in our state’s history – burning nearly 300,000 acres. It is critical that Congress invest in our understanding of and response to this devastating type of natural disaster so that we can increase fire resiliency and protect New Mexicans from these increasingly catastrophic wildfires.”

“The University of California appreciates California Senator Alex Padilla and New Mexico Senator Ben Lujan’s leadership in introducing the National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program Act. This legislation would make critical investments in our nation’s fire research infrastructure and help ensure that our country is better equipped to understand, predict, and deter wildfires,” said University of California President Michael V. Drake, MD. “California has experienced seven of the largest wildfires in the state’s history over the last four years, and we’ve seen firsthand how devastating they can be. The University applauds the senators for their efforts and stands ready to partner with others to strengthen our nation’s fire resiliency.”

This legislation would establish a National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program with the purpose of achieving major measurable reductions in the losses of life, property, and natural resources from wildland fires through a coordinated federal effort to:

  • Improve the understanding and prediction of the fire environment, wildland fires, associated smoke, and their impacts, including in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), on communities, buildings and other infrastructure, ecosystem services and watersheds, and social and economic outcomes;
  • Develop and implement science-based and cost-effective measures to enhance community resilience, address and mitigate wildland fire and associated smoke impacts, and restore natural fire regimes to meet ecosystem needs; 
  • Improve the understanding and mitigation of the impacts of climate change, drought, and climate variability on wildland fire risk, frequency, and severity.

Since taking office, Padilla has made improving the federal response to wildfires one of his top priorities. He introduced a package of bills aimed at ensuring California has the federal resources it needs to protect communities impacted by wildfire smoke and is leading legislation aimed at battling wildfires, protecting workers, and helping combat the effects of wildfire smoke. Padilla also successfully advocated for California to receive billions for wildfire response and drought relief in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Padilla also introduced the FIRE Act, which made it out of committee earlier this year; the legislation that would update the Stafford Act to improve FEMA’s response to wildfires.

In addition to Senators Padilla and Luján, the bill is co-sponsored by Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.).

A full list of stakeholder testimonials can be found HERE.

Full text of the legislation can be found HERE.


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