A letter sent by Senator Mark Udall to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday asks the Secretary to update Udall on the Federal government's efforts to modernize its aging fleet of air tankers used to fight wildfires.
Udall also pressed Michael B. Donley, the Secretary of the Air Force, to quickly "re-purpose" military aircraft so that they could be used to fight wildfires.
"Last summer I led the fight to expedite the U.S. Forest Service’s acquisition of several next generation tankers to supplement the Korean War-era aircraft that made up the firefighting fleet. However, I have recently learned that these new tankers are tangled in red tape," Udall said. "These delays are unacceptable, especially in light of forecasts that the 2013 wildfire season could be even more severe than last year, which produced the two most destructive wildfires in Colorado history. The West cannot wait. That is why I am also urging the U.S. Air Force to quickly transfer several of its excess aircraft to the Forest Service so they can be repurposed for fighting wildfires. This is a pragmatic, cost-effective solution to strengthen Colorado’s position ahead of the 2013 wildfire season."
Last year Udall led others to speed up the US Forest Service's acquisition of several cutting-edge air tankers. Udall has also been instrumental in pushing the study of past fires in order to strengthen future wildfire fighting efforts.
He also requested a third-party review by the Government Accountability Office of the US Forest Service and the US Department of the Interior's aerial firefighting program, and has worked to improve the way agencies work together to fight fires.