One of the most satisfying aspects of my job in the Senate is working to help South Dakotans cut through the bureaucratic red tape of the federal government. I know it is often frustrating for constituents to weave through the maze of federal agencies and programs that have become far too large and no longer serve people as intended. Far too often, federal agencies act alone rather than coordinating with state and local governments, resulting in the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.
The lack of common-sense collaboration between federal agencies and other levels of government is often frustrating, and can result in reckless actions by federal officials placing lives and property at risk.
One recent example of this type of reckless action was the out-of-control prescribed burn, known as the Cold Brook Fire, at Wind Cave National Park. On April 13, the National Park Service initiated a prescribed burn of an intended 1,100 acres, which burned out-of-control consuming 6,500 acres in Wind Cave National Park.
This is not the first time federal agencies have disregarded imminent fire danger, putting lives, land and property at risk. It was just over two years ago that the Forest Service started a prescribed burn in northwest South Dakota, known as the Pautre Fire, which resulted in extensive property losses. Landowners impacted by the Pautre Fire still have not been reimbursed by the Fire Service, nor has the Fire Service accepted liability more than two years after the fire occurred.
The fires started by the NPS and FS are prime examples of federal agencies taking questionable actions without first collaborating with adjacent landowners and local and state officials. To better prevent future out-of-control burns and to ensure the agencies responsible assume liability for the damage caused by these fires, I introduced the Prescribed Burn Approval Act of 2015.
My bill would prevent federal agencies from starting future prescribed burns on federal lands without first collaborating with state government and local fire officials. My bill would also require that when a prescribed fire burns out of control, that the federal agency responsible accepts liability for resulting expenses and damage to private property. Finally, my bill stipulates that damages are to be paid within 120 days of receipt of a substantiated claim.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I will continue working with my colleagues to hold our federal agencies accountable, make common-sense changes to our federal prescribed burn policies, and do my best to ensure that Washington's right hand finally starts working with its left.