Colorado lawmaker says shutdown threatens wildfire preparedness

WASHINGTON (KKTV) - A Colorado lawmaker is "sounding the alarm" stating the government shutdown threatens wildfire preparedness.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet sent a letter to President Donald Trump along with 11 other democratic colleagues on the topic.

The letter can be read below:

Dear Mr. President:

We write to urge you to cease the ongoing government shutdown and allow our nation's forestry professionals and firefighters to continue forest restoration work and training certifications in advance of the coming fire season. The failure to reopen the government puts peoples' lives at risk by imdermining their ability to respond to wildfires and will only serve to delay critical forest restoration and safety projects. These young men and women put their lives on the line to protect the nation's natural resources and other public and private property, and they deserve to have the best training possible in preparation for increasingly difficult fire seasons.

As the fire season grows longer, time for federal agencies to prepare and train for the upcoming fire season shortens. Federal firefighting agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) use the winter months to train existing firefighters, hire seasonal firefighters for the upcoming season, and issue contracts for equipment critical to responding to fires.

Furthermore, firefighters must take a refresher course annually each year to be eligible to respond to wildland fires. Elite crews, like hotshots or smokejumpers, and incident managers, take additional courses. Individual courses can range from several days to months. Already the Tennessee-Kentucky Wildland Fire Academy canceled a week long training because of the shutdown and, if the lapse in appropriations continues, more will follow. If enough firefighters fail to be recertified, the nation could face a critical shortage of qualified firefighters during fire season.

Beyond the significant implications of halting firefighter training and recertification efforts, the shutdown is also delaying critical forest health projects across the country. Press reports indicate that hazard tree removal, pile burning, and other important forest restoration activities are on hold indefinitely. By stopping these important forest management activities, during the very winter months when it is safest to carry many of them out, you are needlessly putting people and rural forested communities at risk.

Unless these firefighter trainings and forest health projects resume soon, the health and safety of our communities mostly in rural areas will be continue to be put at risk during this government shutdown. We strongly urge you to agree to reopen the government.

The letter to President Trump was also signed by U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tom Udall (D-NM), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).

Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner's Office sent us the following statement on the issue:
“I strongly support efforts to take further action to increase funding for border security and begin to fix our broken immigration system. That said, I don’t believe shutting down the government is the best course of action. A government shutdown has far reaching impacts on everything from wildfire preparedness to hurting Colorado families and this is why I have always been against government shutdowns. Instead, Congress should work together to fund border security, end the partial government shutdown, and then continue to fight to get even more border security funding in the long term,” the statement from Sen. Gardner's office read.