Western US should not be forced to face fire season without updated firefighting tanker fleet, says Colorado senator, urges private contractors to put lives before legal disputes, allow US Forest Service to proceed with contract awards

WASHINGTON , May 6, 2013 (press release) – 'Needless, Costly Delays Will Leave the Forest Service to Fight Modern Mega-Fires with Korean War-Era Planes'

Mark Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, urged private contractors to put lives before legal disputes and allow the U.S. Forest Service to move forward with the contracts awarded today for up to seven next-generation air tankers. Udall, who has previously urged private contractors to respect the U.S. Forest Service's contract awards, said additional unnecessary appeals and other delays may be simple calculations of dollars and cents for contractors, but slowing the acquisition of a robust air tanker fleet could risk the lives and homes of Coloradans living in wildfire-prone areas.

The Forest Service's efforts to modernize its aging tanker fleet have been put on hold amid protests from private contractors that have prevented the agency from acquiring the next-generation air tankers that Udall fought to obtain in 2012. The contracts were originally awarded late last year, and another protest could delay the much-needed tankers well into the 2013 wildfire season, which could be just as severe as last year's record-breaking season.

"Air tankers do not put out fires alone, but they do help keep small fires from becoming catastrophic blazes. Colorado and the West should not be forced to go through another fire season without these resources. I understand that the contractors have concerns about dollars and cents on these contracts, but Coloradans' lives and properties are on the line," Udall said. "I am glad the U.S. Forest Service has again awarded contracts for the next-generation air tankers I have been fighting for since the 2012 wildfire season. I am asking the private contractors involved to refrain from unnecessarily tying up these tanker contracts in red tape. Needless and costly delays will leave the Forest Service to fight modern mega-fires in the coming months with Korean War-era planes."

Udall has been a leading voice for ensuring that Colorado and the West have adequate resources to prepare for the threat of wildfire, including pressing the U.S. Air Force to quickly transfer and repurpose excess aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service to fight wildfires.

Udall also pushed to pass a bipartisan amendment to the U.S. Senate's 2014 budget to allocate $100 million more for wildland firefighting and he successfully secured federal funds to repair drinking-water supplies damaged by 2012's Waldo Canyon and High Park fires.

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