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Federal Commission established to evaluate wildland fire mitigation, management, and aircraft

Among other goals, it will develop a strategy to meet aerial firefighting needs through 2030

December 17, 2021 Route Fire, Southern California, Sept. 11, 2021.The Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Homeland Security Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) today announced the establishment of a new Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission, which is required by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, H.R.3684, signed by the President on November 15, 2021, which became Public Law Number 117-58. 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 deliverables 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 — 9 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 January 14, 2022. Their initial meeting is to be held within 30 days after all members have been appointed — no later than February 13, 2022. They are to meet at least once every 30 days, in person or remotely. Their assignments fall into two broad categories; here are some of the highlights: 1. Develop recommendations to mitigate and manage wildland fires By February 13, 2023 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. 2. Report on aerial wildland firefighting equipment, strategy, and inventory By March 30, 2022 prepare an inventory of surplus cargo and passenger aircraft that may be used for wildland firefighting purposes. By June 28, 2022 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. Update December 18, 2021: One of the comments on this article left today by Professional WFF mentioned that the Quadrennial Fire Reviews in 2005, 2009, and 2014 would be a good place to start. Links to them are HERE. Excerpts from the fire aviation section of the 2014 QRF are HERE.

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