Press Release

#SubEnvironment Examines Air Quality Impacts of Wildfires


10.04.17

WASHINGTON, DC – The Environment Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), today held a hearing examining the impact wildfires have on air quality and emissions in the affected areas across the country. Members examined how better management of our forests is needed to avoid and minimize catastrophic wildfires – particularly members looked at how prescribed burns and fuel reduction are important forestry management tools.

Chairman Walden displays a jar of ash on the dais to illustrate what Oregonians endure each summer

“Just this summer in my home state of Oregon, we watched as fires burned more than 678,000 acres – equivalent to two-thirds the size of Rhode Island – and over $340 million has been spent – so far – to fight them,” said full committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR). “Across Oregon schools were forced to close because of smoke and poor air quality. Communities have watched timber jobs disappear as more and more of our federal land has become locked up. Those same communities are now watching tourism dollars slip away as visitors stay away from the smoke.”

In discussing how to better prevent catastrophic fires, John Bailey, Professor at Oregon State University, College of Forestry, commented, “The solution to unwanted wildfire behavior is NOT to pressure young men and women to take more risks by using more aggressive tactics on the fireline and more expensive technology attempting to suppress fire. The solution is to harness the expertise and dedication of federal, state, tribal, NGO, and private sector fire managers to use active and sustainable forest management today, including fire as one of the tools, to help mitigate the effects of future fires.”

Jim Karels, Director and State Forester for the Florida Forest Service, spoke to the important differences between prescribed burns and uncontrolled wildfires, stating, “The differing air quality impacts from prescribed fire compared to unplanned wildfires are important to recognize. One of the keys to prescribed fire for hazardous fuels management is that it is done in seasons under conditions where fire managers have the ability to control fire location, spread, intensity, and many other parameters. … It is becoming increasingly evident through science and experience that without prescribed fire and the small amount of managed smoke that comes with it, we are perpetuating the conditions that generate catastrophic air quality issues and put communities and individuals at risk.”

Witnesses listen as members deliver their opening statements

Knox Marshall, Vice President of Resources at Murphy Company, discussed ways in which we can mitigate the size and scope of wildfires, commenting, “Aggressive action must be taken to address the root cause of the worsening catastrophic wildfires – poor forest health. While we can’t (and shouldn’t) prevent all fires, science does tell us that we can reduce the size and severity of wildfires through active forest management, including timber harvesting, mechanical thinning, and prescribed fire.”

“The statistics are staggering. So far this year, there have been almost 49,000 wildfires in the United States destroying nearly 8.5 million acres. And the emissions from these fires can have serious impacts on air quality over a range that can stretch for many miles. As a result, millions of Americans can be exposed to the pollutants found in wildfire smoke, sometimes for extended periods of time. Congress should be looking at any and all ways to address wildfires and their air emissions, and most important of all, the policy measure that can help prevent or minimize wildfires in the first place,” concluded #SubEnvironment Chairman Shimkus.

A background memo, witness testimony, and an archived webcast of the hearing can be found online HERE.

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Press Release