Bill to Prevent Carelessly Started Prescribed Burns on Forest Service Land Heads to President’s Desk

December 5, 2016

Washington, DC — U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) issued the following statements after the House passed Thune and Heitkamp’s Prescribed Burn Approval Act of 2016 (S. 3395), bipartisan legislation that would require collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and local officials before initiating a prescribed burn on USFS lands when fire danger is rated as extreme. 

“Prescribed burns are a proven management tool that I support,” said Thune. “That said, before a prescribed burn is initiated, effective collaboration between Forest Service personnel and local officials is essential. South Dakota is all too familiar with what can happen when carelessly started prescribed burns, like the Pautre Fire, for example, blaze out of control. They can damage private property and require multiple local firefighting units, at a significant cost to taxpayers. I’m glad this common-sense bill is headed to the president, and I want to thank my colleagues in the House, including South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem and House leadership, for recognizing the need to get this bill to the finish line.”

“The Forest Service needs to listen when ranchers and first responders say conditions are unsafe for a burn – and this bill will help guarantee that happens,” said Heitkamp. “The Pautre wildfire was completely preventable, making it obvious that the Forest Service hasn’t done enough to listen to local communities in North Dakota and beyond. Our bipartisan bill will help prevent what happened in 2013 from happening again, which will help protect our ranchers, their property, and valuable grasslands.”

Thune and Heitkamp introduced this legislation in response to the Pautre fire, a prescribed burn that was intended to cover just over 100 acres in northwestern South Dakota, but quickly turned into a 16,000 acre out-of-control fire that burned for several days and destroyed millions of dollars in private property.

The collaboration requirements in S. 3395 pertain only to the U.S. Forest Service. The bill, which was unanimously approved by the Senate on November 17, now heads to the president for his signature.

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