FLAME Act targets invasive species

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By Carol A. Clark

The Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday.

The FLAME Act contains an amendment that aims to reduce wildfire risks associated with invasive species sponsored by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M.

The legislation passed the House 412-3 and it establishes a permanent fund for fighting catastrophic wildland fires and establishes a cohesive wildland fire management strategy.

“Wildfires are a growing hazard in most regions of the United States, especially in the West, posing a threat to life and property, particularly where woodland ecosystems meet developed areas,” Lujan said in a news release.

“At a time when drought and climate change threaten land across the country, the FLAME Act will provide valuable and steady funding to prevent and fight wildfires on public land.”

Los Alamos Assistant Fire Chief/Fire Marshal Michael Thompson addressed the FLAME Act legislation during an interview this morning.

“Obviously we’re pleased whenever something like this passes,” Thomson said. “We’re watching it closely to see the final outcome.”

Thompson explained that the bill does contain earmarks for both fire mitigation and suppression.

Lujan’s amendment, cosponsored by Reps. Betsy Markey of Colorado and Gerry Connolly of Virginia, calls for studying the risks associated with invasive species and using that information to limit fire risk as part the strategy established in the FLAME Act.

“In recent decades, invasive species have increased the wildfire threat to woodland ecosystems throughout the southwest and other regions of the country,” Lujan said.

“This amendment will help to limit fire risk resulting from invasive species’ negative impact on woodland areas.”

These invasive species are a problem in the 3rd Congressional District, he said.

Several years of drought combined with high tree densities allowed pine bark beetle populations to reach outbreak levels between 2002 and 2004, killing millions of piñon and ponderosa pine trees in New Mexico and Arizona.

Aerial survey data found that 3.4 million acres in the region were affected during this period, Lujan said.

“These dead trees have amplified the threat of fire in woodland ecosystems by increasing the amount of ‘dead and down’ organic material—material that is just waiting for a spark,” he said.

“This amendment will help decrease the threat of wildfires by identifying ways to reduce fire hazards through the study of invasive species and the increased fire vulnerability they cause.”

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her blog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.