Walden on wildfire air tanker problems

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Oregon Congressman Greg Walden

U.S. Representative (R-Hood River) and U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) today pressed the Forest Service to explain why it has failed to award any ”call when needed” (CWN) contracts to providers of wildfire-fighting large air tankers (LAT).

The Oregon lawmakers noted in a letter to Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen that the “call when needed” solicitation was originally issued in July 2018 and closed several months ago in April 2019.

“As you are aware, CWN awards allow the Forest Service to put approved aircraft into service when those aircraft are needed, and do not require the Forest Service to pay for those aircraft when they are not needed,” Walden, Wyden, and Merkley wrote in their letter. “We are particularly concerned that LAT companies have responded to this solicitation in good faith, but have been left in limbo now for several months due to inaction by the United States Forest Service.”

They also noted that failure to award the contracts hurts the Forest Service’s firefighting work both because it lacks access to several next-generation large air tankers, and because several next-generation tankers are available at lower rates than current aircraft in use that could save taxpayer money.

A copy of the letter is here.