Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) led a bicameral letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, urging them to carefully reassess a vaccine mandate for firefighters that will inhibit effective forest management and wildfire response. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Senate Western Caucus Chairman Steve Daines (R-Mont.),House Western Caucus Chairman Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and 14 other members joined the letter as signatories. In part, the members wrote:
"In their roles, these federal wildland firefighters also coordinate emergency responses with state, local, and tribal partners, and are the tip of the spear to combat ongoing wildfire threats. As President Joe Biden stated earlier this year, 'we’ve got to be prepared and have every resource available to make sure we’re there for the American people.' The full availability of these federal firefighters is imperative to the health and safety of our federal lands and the communities near those lands. Therefore, we seek to assess the consequences of President Biden’s recent vaccination mandates on the staffing of USDA and DOI wildland firefighters...
"We are concerned the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal employees may adversely affect the number of wildland firefighters serving at USDA and DOI. Coupled with other factors contributing to the depletion of federal firefighter ranks and the lack of management fueling longer, more severe wildfire seasons, President Biden’s actions may exacerbate challenges in the ongoing effort to combat wildfires.
"Additionally, many stakeholders are concerned about the vaccination mandate’s harmful impact to federal contractors, specifically those completing critical forest management projects that are essential to reducing the risk and severity of catastrophic wildfires and improving forest health. We echo their concerns that the mandate is likely to disrupt work in rural America, ultimately jeopardizing wildfire prevention efforts and potentially endangering hundreds of communities at risk of destruction due to catastrophic wildfire."