U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) have secured a measure in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Bill to help prioritize wildfire mitigation efforts. The bill directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop a report detailing its efforts to mitigate wildfires and identify any funding obstacles for current mitigation programs.
Last week, Bennet and Crapo urged the Subcommittee to push FEMA to use a greater share of its mitigation funding to prevent catastrophic wildfires. In the letter to the subcommittee's chair and ranking member, Bennet and Crapo shared concerns about inadequate funding and recommended the report as a first step.
Specifically, the Bennet-Crapo measure in the bill says, "Over the last decade, wildfires have caused an average of over $1,000,000,000 in economic damages, killed over 150 Americans, and destroyed thousands of homes and other structures across the Nation. The six worst wildfire seasons in the past 50 years in the United States have all occurred since 2000. The Committee is concerned that mitigation efforts are not keeping pace with the growing risk. FEMA is directed to provide a report to the Committee no later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this act on the efforts being made to mitigate wildfires including FEMA technical assistance, information sharing, and grant expenditures for the last 5 years. FEMA should also identify any funding obstacles for wildfires in its current mitigation programs."
A 2007 CBO study of FEMA's Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) program found that a very small share of the agency's funding went to wildfires. Yet, in the same report, CBO concluded that for every dollar FEMA has spent through the PDM fund on wildfire mitigation, it has saved more than $5 in future disaster losses.
"Colorado and communities throughout the West are facing increasingly devastating wildfire seasons. They continue to grow in frequency and intensity," Bennet said. "This bill sends a message to FEMA that wildfire mitigation programs are a priority and should be expanded in the future. They've proven to make a tangible difference and may help us prevent the tragic and unprecedented loss of life and staggering levels of destruction we have endured over the past decade."
"Idahoans know firsthand how devastating fire season can be," Crapo said. "Last year, more than 1,000 wild land fires burned more than 1.6 million acres in Idaho alone and we are already seeing a number of fires this season. I applaud the work of the Appropriations Committee and thank them for making wildfire mitigation a top priority. This bill will provide FEMA the resources to help our western states mitigate for the devastating wildfire season even before it starts."
Bennet has worked tirelessly to attract critical federal resources to help combat wildfires and mitigate their effects. Bennet has called for the modernization of our air tanker fleet to fight wildfires, led efforts to secure Emergency Watershed Protection resources to help Colorado communities recover from last year's Waldo Canyon and High Park fires, authored key forest health and wildfire prevention provisions in the Senate Farm Bill and urged the President to expedite a request from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to issue federal major disaster declarations in response to the Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires. He also led efforts to bring federal assistance to Colorado following last year's High Park and Waldo Canyon fires, including organizing a letter of support urging the President to support Governor Hickelooper's disaster declaration request.
Throughout his career in Congress, Crapo has worked to reduce the risk and severity of large-scale wildfires. In the U.S. Senate in particular, Crapo helped enact legislation, including the Healthy Forest Restoration Act and the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act, that have provided land managers with more tools to counter unhealthy conditions in our nation's forests and other lands to reduce the fire threat. Crapo recently joined a bipartisan group of senators in urging President Obama not to reduce timber sales on Forest Service lands, as he called for in his 2014 budget. The letter stressed the serious consequences reductions could have on communities across the nation and the need for increased timber harvests to help mitigate raging wildfires and help create jobs in our forests.