Kelly, Romney, Curtis Introduce Legislation to Improve Wildfire Policy

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) 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.

Arizona Senator Mark Kelly recently visited the Incident Command Posts (ICPs) of the Telegraph and Mescal Fires, where he was briefed by members of the Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team. After his visits, Kelly wrote to President Joe Biden, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Criswell, Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, and Department of Interior Secretary Haaland urging them to take swift action to deploy Burn Area Emergency Response teams to the fires, conduct damage assessments, and deploy post-fire recovery and flood mitigation projects for impacted lands and communities, including the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Last week, Senator Kelly participated in an Energy and Natural Resources hearing where he secured a commitment from U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicky Christiansen to dedicate federal resources to the many fires currently raging throughout Arizona.

“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.”

“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 lays out a comprehensive strategy which 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 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.” 

Background: 

So far, this year alone, over 250,000 acres have burned in Arizona. Current federal wildland fire policy is a patchwork of legislation and agency guidance across departments and jurisdictions, further complicated by mixed land ownership. 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.       

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