Tom O'Halleran

06/16/2022 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/16/2022 14:39

Forest Service Heeds O’Halleran Call, Shuts Down Expanded Areas of Coconino and Kaibab Natl Forests

WASHINGTON - On Monday, Congressman Tom O'Halleran (AZ-01) sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Moore calling on the USFS to close forests in northern Arizona until wildfires are under control. Today, the Forest Service announced the closure of areas within both the Kaibab and Coconino National Forests.

"While I am pleased with this commonsense safety step, there are additional areas with high fire risk that I encourage the Forest Service to explore closing,"said O'Halleran following the announcement.

Back to Washington from the frontlines of the Pipeline Fire near Flagstaff, today, O'Halleran introduced a package of legislation aimed at addressing and combatting wildfires.

"In Arizona's First District, there is no wildfire "season" anymore-these devastating natural disasters pummel the southwest constantly, putting families, small businesses, and our precious natural resources at risk, and creating burn scars and new flood paths that keep Arizonans in danger long after a fire is out," said O'Halleran. "The fires in our district don't just affect Arizonans: they are national news, and we are desperately behind in funding the solutions needed to address them. That's why I've been fighting to bring this issue to the forefront since coming to Congress in 2017. We need action on my wildfire package without delay."

O'Halleran at Pipeline Fire this week

The legislative package includes targeted federal solutions that address causes of wildfires and better fund fire mitigation efforts and the departments and employees who coordinate them, including:

  • The DRIP Act - re-introduced O'Halleran legislation that establishes a $10 million annual grant program that would alleviate the environmental risks posed by salt cedars and similar nonnative plants by setting up removal and replacement projects and implementing ongoing maintenance and monitoring operations for affected areas.
  • The Fire Recovery Improvement Act - a measure to permit the usage of National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) resources on USFS lands, which would specifically address the burn scar in Flagstaff following the Museum Fire.
  • The Conservation Jobs Act of 2022 - a bill that would provide the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Agriculture with the authority to appoint a graduate of a Job Corps Campus or a Civilian Conservation Center directly to a position within the Department of Labor or the Forest Service. This bill would help qualified candidates more easily fill important roles in forestry, wildland firefighting, or another topic relating to the mission of the Department of Labor or United States Forest Service.

Additionally, next week, O'Halleran will introduce the Forest Service Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, legislation to authorize an additional $20 million to create roughly 125 new Forest Service law enforcement positions, targeted toward high tourist areas as well as areas where wildfire is a threat.

Additional Background:

  • As a key player in Arizona's forest and water management for over 20 years, O'Halleran was an early champion of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI). 4FRI encompasses the Kaibab, Coconino, Apache-Sitgreaves, and Tonto national forests, engaging them in a collaborative, landscape-scale initiative designed to restore fire-adapted ecosystems in the Southwestern Region. Through ongoing collaboration with stakeholders, the four forests worked to plan and carry out landscape-scale restoration of the ponderosa pine forests in northern Arizona.
  • O'Halleran has urged actionfrom the U.S. Department of Agriculture and USFS on the importance of 4FRI and addressing wildfires head-on since coming to Congress in 2017. Meaningful restoration of northern Arizona forests will bring new rural jobs and economic growth to the area, improve water conditions, and reduce public safety concerns.
  • O'Halleran has long worked to bring attention to the need for wildfire mitigation, calling for a federal hearingon wildfires to educate members and the public on the costs of fire, the suffering and damage to human life fire causes, the acreages burned, and what Congress must do to reduce risk. After securing said hearinglast fall, O'Halleran advocated for urgent action to address issues within the 4FRI initiative and held the Department of Agriculture (USDA) accountable for the part they had played in letting the issue fall to the backburner.
    • WATCH O'Halleran question John Phipps, Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry at the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the hearing, HERE.
  • Last fall, O'Halleran voted to passthe bipartisan, Senate-passed infrastructure deal, working to ensure the final bill invested $3.3 billion in wildfire risk reduction, including community wildfire defense grants, mechanical thinning, controlled burns, and firefighting resources, providing a higher level of protection for our communities, watersheds, and small businesses.

O'Halleran has a Fire Resources page on his website.

O'Halleran, Pipeline Fire in background