After Alaska’s second worst fire season on record, the state forester told a U.S. Senate committee the government should stop practices that he says needlessly sideline firefighting aircraft.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski called the hearing to discuss how to improve federal fire management. Alaska State Forester Chris Maisch says one long-standing problem is that both the Forest Service and the Interior Department require aircraft to meet certain standards for firefighting, and each agency certifies – or “cards”– separately. Maisch says the two agencies aren’t well coordinated.
“It’s basically some bureaucracy,” he said.
In program documents, the agencies say they accept interagency cards, but Maisch cited a handful of examples from around the country where aircraft were required to get recertified by a second agency, or state aircraft that couldn’t work on a federal fire due to disagreements over which rules apply. Two of his examples were from Alaska.
“In Alaska, two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters doing bucket work on a Forest Service fire were not utilized for a second mission when it was determined they were not carded,” he said, reading from his list.
Maisch, in addition to being the Alaska’s top public forester also spoke on behalf of the National Association of State Foresters. He says they’ve been asking for a seamless process between the agencies and have been frustrated for years.
“They are carding to the exact same standards so it’s very perplexing to us,” he said.
No one from the agencies testified at the hearing to explain their process or the particulars of the cases Maisch cited.