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August 6, 2015

Bennet, Crapo Reintroduce Bill to Increase Resources for Wildfire Mitigation

Would Reduce Future Spending for Wildfire Suppression

Washington, DC - U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) reintroduced a bill to provide targeted investments for wildfire mitigation. The bill would help save future costs related to wildfire response efforts and the damage to property and land without adding to the deficit.

"Colorado has experienced catastrophic wildfires that have caused immeasurable damage," Bennet said. "We need to do more to prepare for these disasters to help save lives and protect property. This bill targets investments at mitigation efforts to help reduce the size and scope of fires and in some cases prevent them from occurring altogether."

"FEMA directs a substantial portion of its resources every year to helping communities at risk of natural disasters prepare for such events by providing aid for things like flood preparation for hurricanes or modification to houses in Tornado Alley," said Crapo. "However, it provides very few resources to communities at risk of being impacted by wildfires, which, those in the west know all too well, can be devastating to homeowners and communities. This bill seeks to address that disparity."

"El Paso County shares miles of common boundary with the National Forests," said Sallie Clark, El Paso County Commissioner. "After years of devastating fires in El Paso County and the subsequent flooding that has strained our residents, infrastructure and budget, the PREPARE Act is a creative solution that will allow for mitigation and maintenance that can protect our communities from the devastating effects and costs of forest fires."

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 $20 to $30 million per year for a five year wildfire mitigation pilot program, as part of agency's Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund. States and local governments would provide matching funds, leveraging federal dollars for maximum efficiency. The bill would also allow the President to provide post-wildfire mitigation assistance to States that have received Fire Management Assistance Grants. This change, which was originally championed by Senator Mark Udall, was included as a one-year provision in the Fiscal Year 2015 Homeland Security appropriations bill and will expire on September 30th. The bill also requires the President to consider post-fire flooding when making "major disaster" declarations and requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to create a post-fire funding guide for communities.

The Forest Service reported yesterday that it will spend more than half of its budget just to help fight wildfires around the country. Additionally, in a new report the Forest Service released, the agency estimates that within a decade it will spend more than two-thirds of its budget to battle the increasing threat of wildfires. This makes it even more important that we invest in cost-saving mitigation efforts.

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.

Bennet and Crapo teamed up in 2013 to secure a provision in the Senate Homeland Security appropriations bill directing 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 the 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 led efforts to bring federal assistance to Colorado following the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires, including organizing a letter of support urging the President to support Governor Hickenlooper's disaster declaration request. Bennet is also a cosponsor of the bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015, which would end "fire borrowing" and the cycle of underfunding fire suppression.

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.

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