The U.S. is experiencing one of its worst years for wildfire outbreaks thanks to hot weather and a lack of firefighters. And while none of those appear to have happened on federal land, government insiders warn the de facto ban on buying drones with Chinese components risks making the situation worse. The internal memo, which was written earlier this summer and has been seen by the Financial Times, warned: “[The department’s current fleet] must expand to meet the demand of preventative measures mandated for the reduction of wildfire via vegetation reduction.” It found that by the end of the year, the department will only have carried out 28 percent of the controlled burning it could have done had it purchased 17 new drone-based firefighting systems as planned.
“David Bernhardt, the interior secretary, announced the crackdown on Chinese-made drones last year amid concerns about the national security implications of flying them over federal lands,” the report says. “Bernhardt decided all 810 departmental aircraft should be grounded pending a review into the security risks they pose, given that they all contain Chinese parts.”
“Bernhardt did allow an exemption for carrying out controlled burning on federal land, a regular method of halting wildfires in their tracks. But at the same time, Susan Combs, one of his assistant secretaries, said that no new drones should be purchased without her authorization, which she has not since given.”