In an effort to reduce the risk wildfires pose to local communities, Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced bipartisan legislation today to allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to proactively work with states and localities on wildfire mitigation projects. The bill, which places wildfires on par with other natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and tornadoes, would make Colorado, Oklahoma and other states eligible to receive an additional 15 percent of the total funds FEMA allocates for fire suppression to support wildfire-mitigation efforts.
"Colorado communities and public lands managers know that the cheapest fire to fight is one that never burns. This bipartisan, common-sense and deficit-neutral bill would allow Colorado to proactively work to prevent wildfires before they even begin," Udall said. "Wildfires are a natural phenomenon, but we can -- and must -- reduce their impact so that we can avoid catastrophic wildfires. Taking action now is fiscally responsible, because thinning forests and reducing hazardous fuels will help save lives, homes and infrastructure. Studies show that every dollar spent on hazard mitigation saves an average of four dollars."
"Last summer, wildfires across Oklahoma destroyed homes, killed our ranchers' livestock and destroyed our farmers' crops. Proper mitigation efforts would have reduced or even prevented the devastation that many Oklahomans experienced," Inhofe said. "I am pleased to introduce this bipartisan legislation with Sen. Udall that will allow FEMA to be more proactive in preventing and combating these types of natural disasters."
Udall and Inhofe's bill specifically allows FEMA to proactively fund the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program with an additional 15 percent of funds already allocated for the Fire Management Assistance Grant program to address wildfire risks. The program's funds currently are only used for wildfire suppression. This is important for western states like Colorado who do not often experience major disaster declarations, but have frequent large wildfires.
The legislation is identical to a Farm Bill amendment that Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, proposed earlier this year.