Forest Service Expert Says Arizona Needs Its Own Tankers

August 21, 2013

A new report released Tuesday said a better plan is needed to deal with the U.S. Forest Service’s airtanker shortage. The Government Accountability Office said the Forest Service should work with the Department of the Interior to develop a more coordinated approach, but not everyone is sold on that strategy.

In 2002, the Forest Service had 44 airtankers that helped put out wildfires across the country.  Now, they are down to nine.

Tony Kern is the former National Aviation Director of the Forest Service. He said that federal oversight of airtankers is costly, timely and too big a job for the agencies.

"I think the state ought to look at requesting federal funding to develop their own state fleet of airtankers," Kern said. "I think the timeline for a federal fleet test acquisition, you're looking at a decade, I think the states are much more nimble." 

Arizona wildfires burned more than 200,000 acres last year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, and more fires mean more help.

GAO report author Anne-Marie Lasowski Fennell said in a podcast that airtankers are effective and needed.

"Aerial support is an important aspect of fighting wildland fires, so it is particularly imperative that the Forest Service and the Department of Interior have a robust strategy," Fennell said. 

The agencies in the report, which also include the Department of Agriculture, agreed with GAO’s recommendations, although no timeline to complete the development of a comprehensive strategy was discussed.