Schiff seeks to force report on Forest Service night-flying ban

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) on Thursday again lashed out at the U.S. Forest Service for delays in issuing a report of night-flying operations originally scheduled for August 2011.

In statement, he threatened to introduce legislation compelling the agency to turn over the   study that was called for after the devastating Station fire.

The Forest Service stopped using night flights decades ago, citing safety concerns. But the failure by local and federal agencies to use air attacks in the pre-dawn hours when the Station fire first started in August 2009 has been cited as a key reason the blaze grew out of control.

The fire ended up burning for nine weeks, blackening 200,000 acres, torching dozens of homes and causing the deaths of two firefighters.

After missing the first deadline for the night-flying report, the Forest Service then missed another deadline to file the report by the end of 2011.

“As we enter yet another fire season, the Forest Service's delay poses additional risks to communities adjacent to the forest,” Schiff said in his statement.

Tom Harbor, national director of fire and aviation management for the U.S. Forest Service, has said his agency is taking a deliberate and thorough approach to re-evaluating the nighttime flight ban.

A main consideration, he said, was making sure lifting the ban would be “the right kind of investment” for taxpayers, noting that the Forest Service now has agreements in place with counties across the Southland to use more than a dozen aircraft.

Four months ago, Harbor said there was no timeframe for reaching a decision on the policy.

Schiff is seeking to include language in the Department of the Interior appropriations bill that would require the Forest Service to complete the study within 90 days of if being approved.

“I hope that the agency releases the report they have long-promised so we can quickly move forward,” Schiff said.

-- Bill Kisliuk and Jason Wells, Times Community News

Twitter: @bkisliuk

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