October 11, 2017

Crapo, Risch, Western Senators Introduce Bill to Improve Fire Recovery and Mitigation Efforts

Measure would provide Hazard Mitigation Assistance funding to states affected by wildfires

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jon Tester (D-MT), Jim Risch (R-ID), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act to provide resources to assist communities recovering from damaging wildfires. The bill treats wildfires in the same manner as other natural disasters by making available Hazard Mitigation Assistance funding to states affected by catastrophic wildfires.

The measure would provide states affected by wildfires access to the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  HMGP funds would allow states to implement tactics that diminish damages caused by wildfires, and also to carry out plans to prevent future wildfires.  Different from last week’s announcement that the Office of Management recommended funding to replace the more than $570 million transferred away in this year’s fire season from forest restoration accounts to fight a record fire season, the Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act would direct FEMA funding to wildfire prevention activities.

“Throughout the American west, we have felt firsthand the devastation wildfires have on our habitat, our health and our way of life,” Crapo said.  “The Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act would allow fire-prone communities to apply for Hazard Mitigation grants through the Federal Emergency Management Agency in order to undertake ‘fire-wise' projects for homes in the wildland urban interface or to reduce hazardous fuels.  Congress must continue to pursue efforts aimed at reducing the risk and severity of wildfires, as well as improve the response, prevention and mitigation efforts.”

“Wildfires have catastrophic effects across the West,” Bennet said. “We can dramatically reduce the severity and damage from these wildfires through mitigation work that minimizes the risk of flooding, erosion, and future fires. This bill would make it easier for affected communities to receive federal resources for post-fire recovery and mitigation efforts.”

"Massive wildfires destroy homes, businesses, and ecosystems in the west just like catastrophic hurricanes destroy communities in coastal regions," said Risch. "This bill will help local governments in Idaho and across the west deal with the aftermath of large wildfires."

“I have seen firsthand the impact that catastrophic wildfires have on our communities,” Tester said. “Folks impacted by wildfire need assistance long after the flames stop burning, and this bill will help ensure that folks on the ground can restore land impacted by fire and better prevent future disasters.”

“Wildfires have unfortunately proven once again to be the West’s natural disasters,” Wyden said. “This is urgent business that requires an equally urgent and comprehensive response. This bill marks a key piece of that response to help people recover from the devastation of wildfires by providing funding to local governments to reduce flooding and erosion after fires, monitor stream and habitat health and assist residents in clearing brush from around their homes and businesses.”

Background on the Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act:

Currently, states can receive hazard mitigation funding to lessen the effects of a future disaster only after the president declares a major disaster. However, unlike in the case of hurricanes, floods, or tornados, most wildfires do not receive a major disaster declaration. This bill will allow states affected by wildfires to access the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) to implement measures that reduce the risk of flooding and erosion and take actions to prevent future wildfires.

Bennet first introduced this measure as part of the PREPARE Act in 2015. Last week, Bennet, Crapo, Wyden, and Risch attended a briefing with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to press the issue. Last month, Bennet introduced the Wildfire Disaster Act of 2017 and sent a bipartisan letter urging Senate Leaders McConnell (R-KY) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) to include a wildfire funding fix in any future disaster aid legislation.

Statements of support for the legislation:

“Wildfires continue to wreak tremendous damage across our Western landscapes and communities,” said Roy Charles Brooks, President of National Association of Counties. “They threaten public safety, pollute the air, foul our waters and disrupt economic and recreational activity. The Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act would help focus resources – federal, state and local – to prevent and recover from wildfires. Counties thank Senators Bennet, Crapo, Risch, Tester and Wyden for their leadership on this crucial issue.”

“I thank Senator Bennet for introducing this important legislation,” said Fire Chief Thomas Jenkins, President and Chairman of the Board of International Association of Fire Chiefs. “Flooding and landslides can be a serious threat to communities already suffering from major wildland fire damage. This bill will help communities prevent further damage from these natural disasters. The IAFC supports this legislation and urges Congress to pass it."

"While we are frequently judged based on response and criticized based on recovery, mitigation and preparedness are critical phases of emergency management and they most often occur outside the spotlight,” said Robie Robinson, former President of the U.S. Council of the International Association of Emergency Managers. “As mitigation is the linchpin of emergency management, expanding hazard mitigation grant funding following a Fire Management Assistance Grant declaration will enable jurisdictions to implement programs that will effectively reduce risks and return benefits many fold.”

“Mitigation projects have been essential to our recovery from 2012’s High Park Fire,” said Lew Gaiter III, Larimer County Commissioner. “This legislation will give communities the resources to reduce the risk of post-fire flooding and property damage and help support the long-term recovery of communities affected by wildfires.”

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