WASHINGTON, JUNE 4, 2013 AT 9:15 AM EDT - U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell announced today that the agency will begin night helicopter wildfire suppression operations this season in Southern California.
“The re-introduction of Forest Service night helicopter firefighting operations in Southern California further establishes the agency’s commitment to protect lives and property in the region,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “California has already experienced challenging wildfires this season, and is projected to continue to have a severe summer. Night flying operations will provide an aggressive agency initial attack while better ensuring public safety, minimizing overall fire costs and lessening impacts to communities.”
The program will begin this month, following the completion of aircrew and aircraft certifications and will support suppression efforts in the wildland urban interface areas within and adjacent to the Angeles, Cleveland, and San Bernardino national forests, and the southern half of the Los Padres National Forest.
The use of the agency’s night flying helicopter program will be determined by the Angeles National Forest and in coordination with local, county and state partners and will be assigned to incidents through normal dispatch protocols.
The Forest Service will also implement a night aerial supervision fixed-wing program to support the helicopter night flying operations. The program will include an agency-owned aircraft, agency pilot and an agency air tactical group supervisor. The aircraft will be equipped with technology to support night ground and air firefighting operations including an infrared camera and command and control avionics equipment.
The agency’s helicopter night flying operations will be consistently evaluated to determine if there is a benefit in terms of containing fires, preventing new starts from becoming large fires and potential cost savings in fire suppression. These benefits will be weighed against the safety, risk and costs of the program. If there is a measurable benefit and a documented need in other areas of the country, the Forest Service will evaluate expansion of the program.
USDA has made a concerted effort to deliver results for the American people, even as USDA implements sequestration – the across-the-board budget reductions mandated under terms of the Budget Control Act. USDA has already undertaken historic efforts since 2009 to save more than $828 million in taxpayer funds through targeted, common-sense budget reductions. These reductions have put USDA in a better position to carry out its mission, while implementing sequester budget reductions in a fair manner that causes as little disruption as possible.
The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Forest Service lands contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency also has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.