August 01, 2013

Crapo, Bennet Introduce New Bill To Increase Resources, Continue Fight for Wildfire Mitigation

PREPARE Act Awards $30 Million in Competitive Grants for Pre-Disaster Mitigation through new Pilot Program

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) continued their fight today to enhance our wildfire mitigation efforts.  The Senators introduced a bill to provide targeted investments for mitigation and preparedness.  The bill would help save future costs related to wildfire response efforts and the damage to property and land, and the Senators have put forward a proposal to ensure that the legislation would not add to the deficit.

The Prepare, Ready, Equip, and Prevent Areas at-Risk of Emergency (PREPARE) Wildfires Act directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to establish a funding stream specifically for wildfire mitigation.  The bill would authorize an additional $20 to $30 million per year for a five year wildfire mitigation pilot program, as part of agency's Pre-Disaster Mitigation fund.  Senators Crapo and Bennet have also proposed an offset elsewhere in the budget to ensure the proposal is fully paid for.

"There is nothing more frightening for home owners in the West to hear that they must leave their home and take cover due to a raging wildfire," Crapo said.  "Unfortunately, for many Idahoans, and others throughout the West these fires have become the norm and not the exception.  Our bill will help states mitigate and prepare for these large-scale fires on federal, state, local and privately-owned land all the while not adding a cent to the federal deficit."

"Catastrophic wildfires are unfortunately becoming a normal occurrence every summer in Colorado and in states throughout the West," Bennet said.  "There are ways we can prepare for these disasters, help reduce their size and scope and in some cases prevent them from occurring altogether.  This bill will help FEMA target resources toward efforts that help save lives and property in addition to millions of dollars in disaster aid."

Studies have shown that targeted investments in mitigation will prevent and reduce large-scale wildfires and save money in the long run.  A 2007 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study of FEMA's Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) program found that a very small share of the agency's mitigation funding went to wildfires.  Yet, in the same report, CBO concluded that these infrequently funded fire mitigation projects have one of the highest returns on investment out of all the different FEMA mitigation categories, saving more than $5 in future disaster losses through every $1 in mitigation funding.

The PREPARE Act would provide a funding stream for FEMA, in consultation with the U.S. Forest Service, to award competitive grants to states for projects related to wildfire mitigation and preparedness.  States that have received a large number of Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) declarations from FEMA in the past decade would be eligible to apply.  States and local governments would provide matching funds, leveraging federal dollars for maximum efficiency.   Recognizing the reality that wildfires don't respect jurisdictional boundaries, the bill also prioritizes flexibility, permitting local officials to use the mitigation dollars for priority projects on federal, state, or private land.

Crapo and Bennet teamed up earlier this month when they secured a provision in the Senate Homeland Security appropriations billdirecting FEMA to detail its efforts to mitigate wildfires and identify any funding obstacles for current mitigation programs.

Additionally, 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.