State foresters sound alarm on hazardous fuels at House subcommittee hearing

Texas, Montana state foresters relay to Congress the dire need for more hazardous fuel treatments.

WASHINGTON—State Foresters Tom Boggus of Texas and Sonya Germann of Montana stressed the health benefits of minimizing the scale and severity of wildfires before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment yesterday.

“There has been virtually no area of the country immune from wildfire and wildfire smoke,” Boggus testified. “Large cities, often far from the forests on fire, have experienced significantly reduced air quality, impacting human health, tourism, and much, much more. Our forests will inevitably burn, the task is to figure out how this phenomenon can occur with the least impact.”

Both state foresters explained the efficacy of employing forest thinnings and prescribed fire to reduce wildfire fuels. These hazardous fuel treatments, they said, help to reduce fuel loading so that when wildfires inevitably occur, they burn with less intensity and with fewer smoke impacts on communities and firefighters.

“With larger and more severe fires comes more smoke,” explained Germann in her opening statement. “When we can, we employ thinnings to manage wildfire fuels. In other circumstances, it’s best to use prescribed fire. What we’ve found through decades of research and experience is that prescribed fires are radically different from wildfires. For starters, the smoke from prescribed fires is more manageable and much less severe.”

This is because prescribed fires only happen when every detail – the wind, the temperature, the humidity, the location, the fuels, and the ignition – are just right. In Montana, Germann said, advanced weather forecasting and state-of-the-art smoke modeling systems, coupled with the cooperation and expertise of the state’s natural resource and environmental protection agencies, have allowed fire managers to tailor ignition locations and times to meet specific smoke management objectives.

All states have the necessary infrastructure to do the same, Boggus said. Particularly in the South, where 85% percent of the nation’s prescribed fires occurred in 2017.

“The beneficial impact of managed prescribed fire on air quality emissions has even been recognized by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its rulemaking,” Boggus testified. “In both the updating of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard and the Exceptional Events Rule, EPA clearly addresses the role of wildfire as an emissions source and the relevance of prescribed fire use and fuels management in reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire.”

Click here to watch archived footage of this hearing and to read the full opening statements of the hearing witnesses. More information on prescribed fire is available on NASF’s website.

Media Contact: Whitney Forman-Cook at or 202-624-5417

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