Bill Allows Fires to be Treated Like Other Natural Disasters and Provides Funding for Prevention Efforts
Washington, D.C. - Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID), Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), and Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) introduced the Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act to provide more funding to mitigate the effects of wildfires and prevent future fires. The bill treats wildfires in the same manner as other natural disasters by allowing Hazard Mitigation Assistance funding to be provided to states affected by catastrophic wildfires that have received Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAG).
Currently, hazard mitigation funding to lessen the effects of a future disaster can only be provided to states 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. Instead, wildfires are paid for using FMAG funding and do not receive funding for mitigation efforts to prevent the next wildfire. Wildfire mitigation efforts are proven to reduce the costs and long-term effects of wildfires on communities, properties, and watersheds.
Colorado's request for an FMAG declaration to combat the Cold Springs Fire burning in Boulder County was approved on July 10th. The fire has destroyed eight homes and is threatening many more in and around Nederland. The fire started on July 9, 2016, and is currently burning more than 550 acres. The Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act would allow the state to apply for funding to mitigate the effects of the Cold Springs Fire, reducing the risk of flooding, erosion, and future fires in the area.
"Throughout the west, we have seen an increase in wildfires like the ones burning across Colorado right now that are destroying property and habitats and resulting in the tragic loss of life," Bennet said. "We can dramatically reduce the severity and damage caused by fires through mitigation work. For every dollar we spend on mitigation efforts like reducing fuel loads, there is an average savings of four dollars in recovery spending. Our bill will treat fires like other natural disasters by providing post-fire mitigation funding to affected communities."
"The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spends a good deal of money every year helping communities at risk of natural disasters prepare for disasters such as flood preparation for hurricanes or modification to houses in Tornado Alley," said Crapo. "However, FEMA spends very little money assisting communities at risk of being impacted by wildfires. Our legislation would address that disparity by allowing fire-prone communities apply for Hazard Mitigation grants to undertake ‘fire-wise' projects for homes in the wildland urban interface or reduce hazardous fuels."
"We have seen the catastrophic impacts of wildfires across Montana and the west and we must do more to prevent them and reduce their devastation," Tester said. "We know that a wildfire doesn't end when the flames stop burning. This bill will provide additional resources to restore land after a wildfire sweeps through, preventing future disasters."
"Although many of my eastern colleagues do not fully appreciate the situation, wildfires continue to wreak havoc in the western part of our country and this continuing threat is very real," said Risch. "The Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act will be a longer-lasting, positive solution to the ever-increasing need for funds to prevent and battle fires."
"Wildfires threaten the health and safety of communities, contaminate waters, damage wildlife habitats and impact county economies by reducing opportunities for jobs and tourism on the land," said National Association of Counties (NACo) President and El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark. "The Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act leverages federal, state and local resources to address the factors that most directly contribute to catastrophic wildfires before they happen. Counties applaud Senators Bennet, Crapo, and Tester for their leadership and urge Congress to enact meaningful legislation to reduce wildfire risks and associated costs for response and recovery, improve the health of federal forests and ensure the long-term health and viability of our lands and communities."
"I applaud Senators Bennet, Tester and Crapo for introducing this important legislation," said Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, International Association of Fire Chiefs President and Chair of the Board. "Even after the wildland fires are extinguished, communities are still at risk for future floods and landslides. This legislation will help states and communities mitigate that risk."
"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 President of the U.S. Council of the International Association of Emergency Managers President Robie Robinson. "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."
The Fiscal Year 2015 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill included a one-year authority to provide hazard mitigation grants following FMAG declarations. That authority is being used to develop and implement fire mitigation projects in nine states and one tribe that received FMAG declarations for wildfires between March and September 2015. This bill would make that authority permanent. This measure was originally introduced as part of the PREPARE Act Bennet and Crapo introduced last August.
This bill has the support of local elected officials, state and local emergency managers, major fire service organizations, and floodplain managers. The bill is also supported by the National Association of Counties, the International Association of Emergency Managers, US Council, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the National Emergency Management Association, the National Fire Protection Association, the Association of State Floodplain Managers, and the National Volunteer Fire Council.
The Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) Program provides federal funding to states, local governments, and tribes for firefighting and emergency protective measures for fires on public or private forests that are considered major disasters. Funding is currently only available for activities while the fire is burning.
The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) provides federal funding to help communities implement measures in the wake of a Presidential major disaster declaration to reduce long-term risk to people and property from future natural disasters.