O’Halleran Urges Action on 4FRI Initiative, Holds USDA Accountable During Congressional Hearing on Wildfires

September 28, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Last week, Congressman Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01) participated in a House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry hearing on wildfire response and recovery efforts. The hearing was a direct result of a letterO’Halleran sent earlier this month calling for a Congressional hearing to explore the federal role in wildfire response, recovery, and reduction of fire risk. 

“Forest management has long been on the backburner at the federal level, and has led to devastating loss of life, especially this year,” said O’Halleran. “If not properly managed and planned for, wildfires will continue to result in tragic loss of life and massive destruction of infrastructure, natural resources, and watersheds.”

This year, Arizona has seen over seven hundred thousand acres lost to wildfire. A record 2.2 million acres have burned in California, killing eight Americans.

WATCH O’Halleran question John Phipps, Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry at the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the hearing, HERE.

“There is no question that the USDA has let this critical issue slide out of priority view, which is absolutely unacceptable,” continued O’Halleran. “I am working to hold the agency accountable to Americans, emphasize the actions that must be taken to address climate change at the federal level, and continue to bang the drum on critical projects like 4FRI that must be managed properly to ensure forest stewardship improves.”

Last Congress, O’Halleran served as one of the main authors of the 2018 Farm Bill,  a sweeping agricultural legislative package re-negotiated every five years, which has had a tremendous impact on fire prevention and risk reduction, but dangerous delays in implementation.

The Four Forest Restoration Initiative, or 4FRI, is a collaborative, landscape-scale initiative designed to restore fire-adapted ecosystems in Arizona. 

“As a key player in Arizona’s forest and water management since moving to the state in the 1990s, I have seen firsthand the struggle the 4FRI initiative has faced to get the necessary clearance needed to properly maintain our forests,” said O’Halleran. “In the 2018 Farm Bill, I helped implement a 20-year contract process to more effectively allow contractors to borrow money and create more accountability at the Forest Service.”

During the hearing, O’Halleran asked:

  • How well the fire funding fix implemented during the 115th Congress to more readily fund fire suppression efforts without the need to use non-fire funding has worked, and has the budgetary stability resulted in increased efforts related to fire prevention and risk reduction?
  • If there has been additional work done by the Department in the form of treatment and controlled burns?
  • If Wildland Urban Interfaces are being prioritized?
  • How stewardship contracts and projects such as 4FRI in Arizona’s First District have improved forest resiliency and how the USDA is supporting these large-scale projects?

On Friday, O’Halleran joined Senator Martha McSally in leading the Arizona delegation on a letter to the U.S. Forest Service highlighting the urgent need for action on 4FRI.

“Entire communities, industries, and businesses across the state are waiting on the 4FRI project to move forward,” wrote the lawmakers. “The steadily increasing risk of wildfire combined with the economic uncertainty caused by prolonged delays means it is critically important for the Forest Service to expeditiously award this Phase 2 contract.”

Read the full letter HERE.

Arizonans can find fire prevention resources on O’Halleran’s website, HERE.