Luján, Sullivan Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Boost Wildfire Mitigation and Research

Bipartisan Bill Would Create Career Pathways to Tackle Growing Wildfire Threats

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) introduced the Regional Leadership in Wildland Fire Research Act to establish regional research centers at institutions of higher education across the country. Under this bipartisan legislation, these regional centers would be tasked with developing next-generation fire and vegetation models and technologies to support the wildland fire management community in their mission, and address the specific needs of the region they are situated in.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, current wildfire models are failing to adequately predict fire behavior under extreme conditions and in more complex environments. These models also struggle to reproduce recent catastrophic wildfires, making them more likely to fail at predicting future wildfires or determining when and where it is safe to conduct prescribed burns. To support effective wildland fire management and prepare firefighters against evolving risks, next-generation fire and vegetation models are needed.

Each regional research center will:

  • Conduct research to improve our understanding of wildland fire, including causes and associated risks for fires, rehabilitation of affected ecosystems, mitigation strategies that improve firefighter safety, and more;
  • Develop, maintain, and operate next-generation fire and vegetation models and technologies to support wildland fire management; and,
  • Develop a career pathway training program to help carry out wildland fire research.

Additionally, this bill will establish a National Center Coordination Board to coordinate the work of centers, and establish Regional Advisory Boards from wildfire management agencies, state and Tribal governments, and other stakeholders to provide input and assistance.

“Far too many communities in New Mexico and in states across the country know that wildfire season can cost you everything, from homes to small businesses. The federal government must do everything possible to understand the root causes of these wildfires and how local communities can improve wildfire mitigation efforts and save lives and livelihoods,” said Senator Luján. “I’m proud to lead this bipartisan legislation to establish regional research centers tasked with developing next-generation fire and vegetation models and technologies. Each of these regional centers will help boost wildland fire management across the country while creating more opportunities for a good-paying job through career training for wildfire research.”

“Wildfires burn millions of acres in Alaska every year—sometimes as much or more than the combined acreage burned in the rest of the country,” said Senator Sullivan. “To better protect lives, homes and critical infrastructure, we need to invest in research that will produce more accurate models and empower our wildland firefighters to better predict and extinguish fires before they become full-scale natural disasters. I’m glad to introduce legislation with Senator Lujan to establish wildland fire research centers at our universities with specialized expertise in this space—like UAF in Interior Alaska—and develop more effective firefighting strategies that respond to the unique circumstances of each of our states.”

The bill is supported by the Geological Society of America, Federation of American Scientists, National Federation of Federal Employees, Forest Stewards Guild, The Nature Conservancy, the University of New Mexico, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“We need research and innovation to respond to the challenge of larger and more severe wildfires. Fire Research Centers can respond to questions from managers and firefighters about how to mitigate and respond to the unprecedent wildfire behavior they face,” said Dr. Zander Evans, Executive Director, Forest Stewards Guild.

“Growing populations in hazard-prone locations, the interconnection of modern economies, and climate change are increasing the risks associated with natural hazards, including wildfires. Thus, it is important for scientists who study the causes and impacts of these hazards to collaborate with policymakers, stakeholders, and professionals from a variety of disciplines to develop and implement policies that mitigate adverse outcomes and foster resilience from natural hazards. The regional research centers established through this act will play a crucial role in advancing our understanding of wildfire behavior, mitigation strategies, and ecosystem resilience, ultimately aiding in the protection of both human lives and natural landscapes, and the Geological Society of America welcomes Senator Luján’s leadership on this issue,” said Dr. Christopher Bailey, President of The Geological Society of America and Chair of the Geology Department at The College of William & Mary.

“The University of New Mexico stands in strong support of this legislation sponsored by Senator Ben Ray Luján and Senator Dan Sullivan, seeking to improve existing models of wildland fire risk and build new, improved forecasts of wildfire susceptibility. UNM, along with our state and federal partners, acknowledges the critical function this legislation will serve as we aim to provide more accurate information to land managers and firefighters who share our interest in protecting our local communities and forested watersheds, preserving rural livelihoods and sustaining agricultural economies in New Mexico for future generations,” said Garnett S. Stokes, President, The University of New Mexico.

“Approximately 80% of Alaska’s population is living in areas at risk of wildland fire. It is vital that we improve our understanding of and develop better ways to prevent and combat wildland fire on a regional basis. The best way to accomplish these goals is through regional research efforts. I’m grateful Senator Sullivan recognizes this and thankful for his leadership and introduction of the Regional Leadership in Wildland Fire Research Act. UAF stands ready to advance wildland fire regional research to help protect lives and property in Alaska. I also want to thank Senator Luján for partnering with Senator Sullivan on this important legislation,” said Dr. Dan White, Chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).

“Extreme weather has pushed wildfires to grow in size and severity, making our current wildfire models inadequate. The Regional Leadership in Wildland Fire Research Act is a significant investment in understanding how wildland fire risks continue to evolve, and establishes a strong foundation that first responders and forest managers can rely on,” said Daniel Correa, Chief Executive Officer of the Federation of American Scientists. “We commend Senator Luján and Senator Sullivan for their leadership to champion and invest in innovative next-generation fire and vegetation models to protect human health, ecosystems, and our communities.”

“We spend billions on improving our understanding of disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes – that hasn’t happened yet with megafire. The Regional Leadership in Wildland Fire Research Act recognizes and invests in our research community to produce region specific scientific research and solutions to catastrophic wildfires, allowing innovators and wildland firefighters to use this information to directly leverage technology to predict, detect, and prevent megafire,” said Matt Weiner, CEO of Megafire Action.

Full text of the bill is available HERE. One pager is available HERE.



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