Appropriations Bill Instructs FEMA to Devise Fire Mitigation Strategy with Forest Service, BLM
U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) today applauded the focus on wildfire mitigation strategies in the Homeland Security appropriations bill, and called on their colleagues to pass the PREPARE Act, which would make targeted investments for pre-disaster mitigation and preparedness.
The Senate Appropriations Committee included language in the Homeland Security appropriations bill today instructing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to devise a strategy with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to better mitigate the devastating effects of wildfires. The bill also requires FEMA to coordinate with state and local officials on cooperative efforts to mitigate and prepare for wildfires.
The language stems from a report produced by FEMA that was requested by Bennet and Crapo in last year’s Homeland Security appropriations bill. And the language also specifically called out the importance of FEMA predisaster mitigation funding, which the Bennet-Crapo legislation would substantially increase and direct in part to wildfire prevention.
“Catastrophic wildfires have become an unfortunate but normal occurrence every summer in Colorado,” Bennet said. “We have to find a way to get out of the vicious cycle of devoting so many resources to wildfire suppression without addressing mitigation and preparedness. This bill ensures FEMA and other federal agencies along with state and local officials will be able to work toward a better strategy. At the same time, the Senate should pass the PREPARE Act so we have a dedicated source to advance these lifesaving efforts.”
“Common sense dictates that as we ensure disaster funding is available to fight our worst fires, we also have on hand the ability to help homeowners and local officials plan for recovery and prevention efforts,” Crapo said. “With more than 1,000 fires and 1.6 million acres burned last year in Idaho alone, the need for this preparedness and planning is clear.”
Last year, Bennet and Crapo introduced a bipartisan bill to enhance wildfire mitigation efforts with a dedicated funding stream for mitigation projects. The Prepare, Ready, Equip, and Prevent Areas at-Risk of Emergency (PREPARE) Wildfires Act 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 Bennet and Crapo have also proposed an offset elsewhere in the budget to ensure the proposal is fully paid for.
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.