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Commission set to evaluate wildfire mitigation, management, aircraft

by Bill Gabbert, Wildfire Today |

Federal departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency announced last week the establishment of a new Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission. It was required by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, H.R.3684, signed by President Joe Biden Nov. 15.

The commission is tasked with recommending federal policies and strategies to more effectively prevent, mitigate, suppress and manage wildland fires, including the rehabilitation of land affected by wildland fires. It will include representation from federal, state, tribal, county and municipal governments as well as non-governmental stakeholders from private industry.

The legislation authorized $600 million for management of fire personnel and approximately $600 million for fuel management, pre-fire planning, satellite fire detection, research, radio interoperability, and other uses.

The new law is very specific and detailed in laying out the objectives of the new commission, perhaps worrying that if it was too vague not much would get done. The 27 members of the commission will have their work cut out for them – nine from federal departments and 18 non-federal stakeholders, plus an executive director they can hire. They may also bring on staff if needed. The members will serve “without compensation” but can be reimbursed for travel expenses and per diem.

The appointments of the members of the commission are to be made no more than 60 days after the date the legislation became law, which works out to Jan. 14. Their initial meeting is to be held within 30 days after all members have been appointed – no later than Feb. 13. They are to meet at least once every 30 days, in person or remotely.

Their assignments fall into two broad categories. Some of the highlights include developing recommendations to mitigate and manage wildland fires, and report on aerial wildland firefighting equipment, strategy and inventory.

By Feb. 13, the commission will develop a report describing recommendations to prevent, mitigate, suppress, and manage wildland fires; consider protection of human life, short- and long-term forest management; wildland-urban interface; utility corridors; rehab after fires; streamlining environmental reviews; and, recommendations for modernizing and expanding the use of technology, including satellite technology, remote sensing, unmanned aircraft systems, and any other type of emerging technology to prevent, mitigate, suppress, and manage wildland fires.

By March 30, the commission will prepare an inventory of surplus cargo and passenger aircraft that may be used for wildland firefighting purposes.

By June 28, it will develop an assessment of the number of aircraft needed to fight wildland fires through 2030. The report will include an assessment of the federal government’s authorities to provide or sell surplus aircraft to federal, state, or local organizations to be used for wildland firefighting, and, identify any additional authorities that are needed. The commission is directed to consider all private and public sector options for accessing necessary aircraft and aircraft parts, including procurement, contracting, retrofitting, and public-private partnerships.