U.S. Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Mark Kelly (D-AZ) today introduced the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission Act of 2021, bipartisan and bicameral legislation to establish a commission of federal and non-federal stakeholders—including city and county level representation—to study and recommend fire prevention, mitigation, management, and rehabilitation policies for forests and grasslands. Representative John Curtis (R-UT) plans to introduce companion legislation in the House this week.
Last week, Senator Romney held a press conference with Draper City Mayor Troy Walker and Acting Director of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands Jamie Barnes to announce the legislation. A one pager summary can be found here.
“With nearly 400 wildfires burning more than 40,000 acres of land, Utah’s 2021 fire season has already surpassed the five-year average for this time of year,” Senator Romney said. “As the American West continues to get drier and fires become more destructive, it doesn’t make sense to continue to adhere to the fire policies of the past. Our legislation would bring together officials from all levels of government – including county and city representation – and outside experts to improve strategies to prevent future wildfires from becoming catastrophic disasters in Utah and across the West.”
“Right now, we are witnessing one of the worst early starts to a fire season that Arizona has ever seen,” said Senator Kelly. “Every year, we see these fires grow larger and more threatening, putting communities, first responders, and small businesses in harm’s way. We cannot expect outcomes to change unless we try a new approach. In order to protect Arizonans and their property, I am introducing this bipartisan legislation with Senator Romney to bring together experts from local communities and the private and public sectors to figure out how we can get better at wildfire prevention, mitigation, and response.”
“Right now Utah is experiencing multiple extreme wildfires and land managers are preparing for another unprecedented fire season. The current drought combined with decades of poor federal forest management has made wildfires more likely, fire behavior unpredictable, and fighting fires more difficult,” Representative Curtis said. “As those charged with ensuring our land is healthy and available to future generations, we must do better and follow the advice of professionals to mitigate fire risk in the first place, ensure our national fire response is sufficient, and help our communities swiftly recover. The Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission Act will bring together experts to inform Congress and land managers on best practices. I’d like to thank Senator Romney for sharing my commitment to proper wildland management and stopping the devastation and destruction that wildland fires leave in their wake.”
“Utah is currently experiencing unprecedented wildfire and drought conditions. Above normal temperatures and critical fuels have produced extreme fire conditions,” said Utah Governor Spencer Cox. “There is no better time than now to work together to improve policy and focus on practices that can make a difference for our future, including better prevention, mitigation, management and rehabilitation. I appreciate the good work of Senators Romney and Kelly and Representative Curtis on this legislation. Working together with the experts in the field will lead us to the best policies and practices on our landscapes for years to come.”
Last year, nearly 60,000 fires burned across ten million acres, more than 53,000 of which were human-caused fires, according to the National Interagency Fire Council. So far this year, in Utah, nearly 400 fires have burned more than 40,000 acres of land. Almost 90% of these fires are human-caused.
Current federal wildland fire policy is a patchwork of legislation and agency guidance across departments and jurisdictions, further complicated by mixed landownership. This bill would require a review of the nation’s wildland firefighting strategy, accompanied by specific policy recommendations, by a commission made up of the nation’s top experts, including state and local stakeholders.