In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the West has seen one of the worst fire seasons on record. As fire seasons grow longer and communities face increasingly destructive and costly wildfires, it is imperative that Congress prioritize proactive, science-based forest management policies to improve national preparedness and response to wildfire. Adequate fire preparation, mitigation, response, and recovery efforts are critical to ensuring communities are resilient and have every tool necessary to protect lives, property, and the land itself. Yesterday, Congressman John Curtis (R-UT) and Congressman Joe Neguse (D-CO) unveiled plans to launch a bipartisan caucus in the 117th Congress to work collaboratively on wildfire mitigation and recovery solutions.
The Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus will seek to elevate awareness and bipartisan consensus around wildfire management and mitigation, environmental and community protections, public health and safety, and wildfire preparedness and recovery in Congress. Notably, the caucus will require that members join in equal bipartisan numbers, and will serve as a useful tool for facilitating conversations and cultivating solutions for communities facing wildfire.
“Utahns know the destruction that wildfires leave in their wake and the importance of common-sense forest management that can save lives and property. During my time in Congress, improving wildfire mitigation, response, and recovery efforts has been a top priority, and I am committed to creating a diverse coalition of stakeholders to work towards stopping preventable disasters. Congressman Neguse and I share the unfortunate experience of seeing firsthand how devastating wildfires are to the land and surrounding communities, and because of that, also share a commitment to working across the aisle to find ways to protect our communities and ensure they quickly bounce back after a fire,” said Congressman John Curtis. “I am excited to announce the creation of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus to bring together Republicans and Democrats to find common ground and advocate for policies that will help communities recover and respond to catastrophic wildfires, as well as avoid them in the first place.”
“Wildfire mitigation and response must be a year-round priority. The devastating and record-breaking nature of our wildfire season in Colorado and throughout the western U.S. this year makes that perfectly clear,” said Congressman Joe Neguse.“In the midst of the pandemic, when our firefighters were faced with dual crises and uncertain safety conditions, Congressman Curtis and I partnered together to introduce legislation to address these public safety concerns. The Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus will build on this bipartisan collaboration and ensure in the 117th Congress and beyond, Congress is prioritizing the needs of our local fire crews, our western communities, and fire mitigation and recovery efforts in the wake of increasingly more damaging and more deadly wildfires.”
Representatives Neguse and Curtis have worked together throughout the 116th Congress to address wildfires in the West. In 2019, together they introduced the Study on Improving Lands (SOIL) Actwhich evaluates the effects of wildfire and land use practices on the ability of soil to sequester carbon. Last April, they introduced the Wildfire and Community Health Response Act of 2020 aimed at supporting the health of firefighters and mitigating the impact of wildfires on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus will:
Advocate for wildfire-related programs, including funding for disaster relief, prevention, and mitigation;
Share federal relief programs and resources with communities before, during and after wildfire season; and
Highlight balanced and bipartisan science-based wildfire management and mitigation proposals in Congress.
Lynn Scarlett, Chief External Affairs Officer of The Nature Conservancy said: “Every year we experience another record-breaking wildfire season and its catastrophic consequences, it is a tragic reminder that we must do more to care for and manage our wildlands and protect communities. The formation of this bipartisan House caucus affirms that wildfires affect us all. We must reduce the dangers of wildfire, improve forest health and resilience, strengthen our wildfire response and expand post-fire restoration. We commend the caucuses’ founders for working toward bipartisan solutions for the country’s wildfire challenges.”
James D. Ogsbury, Executive Director, Western Governors’ Association weighed in as well. “Wildfire is an important natural process in our environment, but uncharacteristic wildfire is a persistent threat, especially in western states, due to a host of past management practices and climate factors. The House Wildfire Caucus is an exciting platform to bring attention to these challenges and seek bipartisan solutions to increase the health and resilience of our communities and ecosystems. WGA is pleased to see the formation of the new Caucus and I especially want to thank its Chairs, Representatives Joe Neguse of Colorado and John Curtis of Utah, for their bipartisan leadership on this matter of great importance to the West.”
In addition to the two pieces of legislation mentioned above, Congressman Curtis has also introduced:
Aerial Incursion Repercussion (AIR) Safety Act – The AIR Safety Act directs land managers and the FAA to examine the consequences of private drones flying near wildfires resulting in aerial firefighting responses to be grounded. The AIR Safety Act recently passed the House by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote.
Making Access to Cleanup Happen (MATCH) Act – After hosting Senior USDA officials, including the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, in Utah, the Congressman introduced the MATCH Act, which directs USDA to publish pre-approved watershed cleanup activities that communities can start immediately following a fire and ensures that work counts toward their mandatory contribution to Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program projects.
Funding Local Assistance and Recovery Efforts (FLARE) Act – The FLARE Act will also allow watershed rehabilitation to begin more quickly following a wildfire by ensuring that EWP sponsoring counties and cities are able to receive retroactive payments for work that they complete on EWP projects during the time between the project being approved and funds being distributed.