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S.D. Delegation Calls on Bureau of Land Management

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Sioux Falls, S.D. (KELO AM) - U.S. Senators John Thune, Tim Johnson and Representative Kristi Noem sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Neil Kornze calling for the agency to continue funding the Wildfire Community Assistance program, a local-federal cooperative project that hires area veterans to decrease the size and intensity of forest fires.

The delegation writes, “The Wildfire Community Assistance program has not only reduced hazardous fuels and fire danger; it has also provided the veterans who participate in this program with valuable employment experience and job training…We must continue to invest in programs that leverage non-federal resources to reduce fire potential now, rather than wait and pay to suppress large scale wildfires later. We respectfully request that funding for cooperative hazardous fuels mitigation projects, especially those providing employment to returning veterans, be used for such projects and not administratively reallocated to other agency priorities.”

South Dakota successfully leveraged funding for the Wildfire Community Assistance Program in a number of Black Hills communities. The Rapid City Fire Department partnered with the BLM to hire seven veterans in the last year. This partnership reduced hazardous fuels buildup on 60 acres, protecting $26 million worth of properties. Meade County hired nine veterans to work with property owners of 30 properties to thin trees and remove fallen and dead trees and brush from their land, particularly around homes and other buildings, protecting more than 60 structures.

The text of the delegation’s letter follows.__ 

July 28, 2014

Director Neil KornzeU.S. Bureau of Land Management1849 C Street NWWashington, DC 20510

Dear Director Kornze:

We write today to voice our support for the highly successful hazardous fuels mitigation project administered through the Wildfire Community Assistance program.  This project reduces hazardous fuels in the Black Hills by hiring veterans to work with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) partners in South Dakota.  We respectfully request that the BLM continue to fund this important initiative at levels consistent with recent years.

Recent large forest fires and prolonged fire seasons have encouraged creative thinking and development of programs to decrease the size and intensity of forest fires.  While the Black Hills has not recently experienced a large landscape wildfire, the bark beetle infestation is still creating significant accumulation of hazardous fuels that endanger private landowners, municipalities, and counties.  To combat this growing threat, communities within the Black Hills are successfully partnering with the BLM, while providing returning veterans employment and on-the-job training. 

Specifically, the Rapid City Fire Department has partnered with the BLM to hire seven veterans in the last year.  This partnership has reduced hazardous fuels buildup on 60 acres, protecting $26 million worth of properties.  Similarly, since the project’s inception in February of 2013, Meade County in the northern Black Hills has hired nine veterans to work with property owners of 30 properties to thin trees and remove fallen and dead trees and brush from their land, particularly around homes and other buildings, which has protected more than 60 structures.  Additionally, the City of Lead is participating in a similar effort after receiving a grant from the BLM last year. 

The Wildfire Community Assistance program has not only reduced hazardous fuels and fire danger; it has also provided the veterans who participate in this program with valuable employment experience and job training.  In addition, these partnerships are helping veterans make the transition to civilian life and providing them with marketable skills.  While enrolled in the program, veterans gain valuable work experience and attend a variety of classes on topics ranging from CPR and emergency response skills to equipment certification programs.  Many veterans who have participated in the program are now working in a variety of occupations or pursuing higher education. 

This initiative provides BLM grants to these communities through fuel mitigation funds, which we understand may be under internal BLM consideration for cuts.  Although every federal agency faces budget constraints, these constraints make it even more important for agencies to continue utilizing partnerships that leverage cost-sharing from multiple entities for funding.  Without a doubt, local communities as well as the federal government have suffered the consequences of hazardous fuels buildups in forests around the country.  We must continue to invest in programs that leverage non-federal resources to reduce fire potential now, rather than wait and pay to suppress large scale wildfires later.

We respectfully request that funding for cooperative hazardous fuels mitigation projects, especially those providing employment to returning veterans, be used for such projects and not administratively reallocated to other agency priorities. 

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

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