EAGLE COUNTY — Smokey might be mistaken. Apparently federal tax dollars can also help prevent forest fires.
Two bills sponsored by Colorado lawmakers are making their way through Congress are aimed at increasing funding for wildfire mitigation.
Rep. Scott Tipton’s Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act is headed for the House floor for a vote. Sen. Michael Bennet’s PREPARE Wildfire Act would establish a competitive grants to fund wildfire prevention projects.
Both would channel more money to projects designed to prevent wildfires while, they say, not adding to the federal deficit.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, very little of FEMA’s pre-disaster mitigation funding goes to wildfires. Crunching the same numbers, the office concluded that wildfire mitigation efforts boast one of the highest returns on investment of all the different FEMA mitigation categories.
For every $1 spend on mitigation funding, FEMA saves $5 in future disaster losses, the office found.
Both Tipton’s and Bennet’s bills would increase prevention funding. Tipton’s would allow state and local governments to identify potential trouble spots on federal land and clean them up without waiting for permission from federal agencies.
“Our package would allow greater state and local involvement in wildfire prevention on federal lands in order to expedite hazardous fuels reduction projects and reduce litigation, and in doing so help restore sustainable timber harvesting, create jobs, and provide a reliable source of revenue for rural education,” Tipton said.
Tipton says his bill also addresses a shortfall in school revenue and critical services caused by lack of timber harvest. It requires the Forest Service to produce at least half of the sustainable annual yield of timber required under law since 1908, and to share 25 percent of those receipts with rural counties.
Wildfires burned 9.3 million acres in 2012, while the U.S. Forest Service harvested approximately 200,000 acres of timber, Tipton said. According to the Forest Service, in 2012 the agency spent $296 million on hazardous fuels treatment nationwide, while spending $1.77 billion on wildfire suppression during that time.
Bennet’s Prepare, Ready, Equip, and Prevent Areas at-Risk of Emergency (PREPARE) Wildfires Act would direct FEMA to establish a funding stream specifically for wildfire mitigation.
The bill would authorize an additional $20 million to $30 million per year for a five-year wildfire mitigation pilot program, as part of agency’s pre-disaster mitigation fund. Bennet and his co-sponsor, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, have also proposed an offset elsewhere in the budget to ensure their proposal is paid for.
Bennet’s PREPARE Wildfires Act would award competitive federal grants to states for wildfire mitigation projects. States and local governments would provide matching funds.
“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.”
Bennet and Crapo introduced their bill this week.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.