Bennet, Flake Introduce Amendment to Combat Wildfires

Provision Would Help Harness Unmanned Aerial Systems Technology to Fight Wildfires

U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced an amendment late yesterday to create two additional test sites for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that would focus on fighting wildfires, which have devastated forest land throughout the Western United States.

“Extreme wildfires have become an all too common occurrence in Colorado, leaving families without homes and hundreds of thousands of charred acreage in their paths,” Bennet said. “We need to employ every tool available to help firefighters in their battles. This bipartisan amendment will help us develop UAS technology and teach us more about how they can strengthen our fights against wildfires more quickly and safely.”

“In the wake of Arizona’s Yarnell Hill fire and the tragic loss of 19 firefighters, we owe it to the families of those who perished and to all who face wildfire threats to better understand how UAS technology can help fight fires and save lives,” said Flake.

“Colorado is ready to work with the FAA in any capacity to complete UAS NAS integration and, as a result, start generating the economic and citizen value these platforms can provide. We are demonstrating our willingness through proposed legislation that is both responsible and supportive of accessing the value of unmanned systems,” said Stan VanderWerf, Executive Director of UAS Colorado.

Congress passed legislation over a year ago directing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to begin a process that incorporates UAS technology into the civil aviation system with six test sites around the country. The FAA has announced guidelines for its selection process with specific safeguards designed to ensure the privacy and safety of anyone living near a test site.

The Bennet-Flake amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act directs the FAA to select two additional test sites that would focus in part on wildfire monitoring, mitigation, and containment. It would give emergency management and aviation officials a better idea of how UAS technology can be used to combat the devastating effects of wildfires.

Bennet has worked tirelessly to secure critical federal resources to help combat wildfires. He has called for the modernization of our air tanker fleet to fight wildfires, led efforts to secure Emergency Watershed Protection resources to help Colorado communities recover from last year's Waldo Canyon and High Park fires, authored key forest health and wildfire prevention provisions in the Senate Farm Bill, and urged the President to expedite a request from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to issue federal major disaster declarations in response to this summer’s Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires.

Bennet has also advocated for the safe incorporation of UAS technology into Colorado’s robust aerospace industry, working with Senator Udall and Governor Hickenlooper to lead a Colorado delegation letter in support of a Colorado FAA test site that prioritized safety and privacy for Colorado residents.