Heitkamp pushes U.S. Forest Service to compensate ranchers for losses in Pautre Wildfire
June 3, 2014
Amid reports from ranchers that the U.S. Forest Service may try to deny responsibility for the April 2013 Pautre Wildfire and limit compensation to ranching families who saw their properties destroyed, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, from North Dakota, called on USFS to clarify its responsibility for the fire and fairly compensate ranchers for their devastating losses.
Last week, USFS Chief Tom Tidwell visited North Dakota and indicated that USFS is in the process of reviewing claims made for losses from the Pautre Wildfire. During a meeting with Tidwell, Heitkamp pressed him on the need to reimburse ranchers, but Tidwell did not clearly concede that USFS acted negligently in proceeding with the prescribed burn that led to the Pautre Wildfire.
"The Pautre Wildfire was completely preventable and never should have even happened in the first place. Ranchers not only saw their property destroyed, they also lost much of their grass in the fire which hurt their livelihoods," said Heitkamp. "I'm glad Chief Tidwell came to Dickinson last week to hear from ranchers and learn more about how the wildfire has impacted their families. But, I have heard concerns from ranchers on the ground that the Forest Service may attempt to deny fault for the fire in order to limit compensation for damages. If true, this is unacceptable and I'll keep working to make sure the Forest Service bears responsibility, steps up to the plate, and fully reimburses ranchers for the damages it caused."
More than a year after the Pautre Wildfire, ranching families affected by the wildfire have still not been compensated for damages to their property. Since the wildfire, Heitkamp has been a leading voice in pressing USFS to fully reimburse ranchers for documented losses, which totaled nearly $10 million in damage and 14,000 burned acres. Heitkamp first expressed her frustration with the prescribed burn in April 2013 and has continued to advocate for North Dakota's ranchers.
At a roundtable discussion in Dickinson with Tidwell, Heitkamp again voiced her concerns and vowed to hold USFS accountable for ranchers' losses. She spoke about how ranching families have waited far too long for the reimbursements they deserve and pressed USFS to expedite this process. Shortly after the wildfire in April 2013, Heitkamp expressed her disappointment to Tidwell and urged USFS to halt all planned prescribed burns in the Dakota National Grassland until drought conditions subsided, requested a review of prescribed burn policies, and called on USFS to expedite the claims process for ranchers.
–N.D. Senator Heidi Heitkamp