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Thursday, May 13, 2004

For Immediate Release

Walden Receives Assurance from Top Administration Official that Medford Air Tanker to Remain Operational

Assurance follows nation-wide grounding of Forest Serviceís air tanker fleet; Walden to meet next week with nationís top transportation agencies to discuss options following tanker fleet grounding

WASHINGTON, DC Ė U.S. Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR), the Chairman of the Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, received assurance today from a top Bush Administration official that the recent decision to ground 33 air tankers used to fight wildfires will not affect the Oregon Department of Forestryís (ODF) tanker based at the U.S. Forest Service air tanker base in Medford. During a hearing before the Forest Health Subcommittee, USDA Undersecretary Mark Rey responded to Waldenís question about the future use of the ODF tanker by stating unequivocally that it would be permitted to continue its operations at the Medford base. Rey, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, further assured Walden that additional ODF tankers would be allowed to use the base as a reload facility during the summer fire season.

"With drought plaguing Oregon and much of the West and hazardous fuels continuing to accumulate on our national forestlands, itís essential that the Medford Air Tanker Base continue to function," said Walden. "As the past two years have illustrated, this base serves as a critical staging point for the initial attack aircraft that successfully suppress and contain many small wildfires before they become catastrophic conflagrations like the Biscuit Fire. Iím grateful that the Forest Service will allow ODF to operate out of the Medford base."

The U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior agencies chose to terminate the contract for 33 large air tankers following a determination by the National Transportation Safety Board that there is no method currently in place to adequately ensure the safety and airworthiness of the aircraft.

Next Tuesday, May 18, Walden and other lawmakers will meet with top officials from the National Transportation Safety Board, Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior to discuss what solutions are available to return the nationís air tanker fleet to service in time for the summer fire season.

In 2002 Walden led the congressional effort that blocked a U.S. Forest Service proposal to close the Medford Air Tanker Base. Walden secured a $1.2 million federal investment to upgrade the base and ensure its continued operation.

Congressman Walden represents the Second Congressional District of Oregon, which includes 20 counties in southern, central and eastern Oregon. He is a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce as well as the Committee on Resources.








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