Jul 06 2012
By Rep. Kristi Noem
South Dakotans really know how to celebrate our nation's independence. Even with fireworks displays canceled in many areas due to extreme fire danger, folks still came out in droves for parades, barbeques and family gatherings this Fourth of July.
In the backdrop of these celebrations, brave firefighters and members of the National Guard were battling wildfires. With hundred degree temperatures, low moisture levels and strong winds fanning the flames, these men and women fought the fires right through the July 4th festivities.
I want to thank all the individuals working to contain these fires and extend my deepest condolences to the families of the North Carolina National Guard members who died while fighting fires in South Dakota. These men died heroes, and their family, friends and loved ones will continue to be in my prayers.
The loss of life reminds us just what a high cost fires can have, and reports that the flames are being fueled in part by trees killed by the mountain pine beetle are frustrating. The relationship between the beetle and fires is still being debated, but there is no question that the dead and dying trees pine beetles leave in their wake create fuel to feed fires.
Wildfires happen, we all know that, but we can take steps to make them less severe through smart forest management practices. We must be able to promptly remove pine beetle infested trees and continue the fight to try to contain the epidemic.
The federal government has a responsibility to maintain land it has jurisdiction over, and since coming to Washington I have fought to make the pine beetle a federal priority. I brought National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop out to the Black Hills to see the devastation firsthand and have been joined by Senators Thune and Johnson in pressuring the government for additional funding. All told, an additional $2 million has been directed to South Dakota to aid in pine beetle mitigation efforts, and I’m continuing to push legislation to streamline environmental processes so we can get those efforts underway faster.
The firefighters and guardsmen are doing their part to protect people and property, but the federal government needs to do its part when it comes to effective forest management practices. It’s also incumbent upon each of us in South Dakota to be responsible in this dry season. Please do not leave campfires unattended or throw lit cigarettes out your car window. We must all take it upon ourselves to make smart decisions before another life, home or ranch is destroyed by fire.
Rep. Kristi Noem is South Dakota’s lone U.S. Representative, elected in November 2010. She serves on the Agriculture, Education and Workforce and Natural Resources Committees.