In Millcreek on Thursday, U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) announced he will introduce legislation to establish a commission to conduct a national review of wildfire policy and make recommendations to Congress. Senator Romney was joined by Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini, and Jason Curry of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, who spoke in support of the senator’s efforts.
As of October 2020, approximately 1,423 wildfires have occurred in Utah this year, burning approximately 311,000 acres. Over 75 percent of Utah’s wildfires were human-caused, and the state has spent $55 million fighting fires this year. Thursday’s announcement occurred at the entrance of Neff’s Canyon, which was the site of a recent lightning strike that ignited a wildfire.
Federal wildland fire policy is a patchwork of legislation and agency guidance across departments and jurisdictions, further complicated by mixed landownership. Romney’s bill would require a review of the nation’s wildland firefighting strategy, accompanied by specific policy recommendations, in consultation with state and local stakeholders, including county and city level representation.
“This year, Utah and other states in the West have faced an unprecedented level of wildland fires, due in large part to many decades of poor management of forests and a persistent lack of local input when it comes to best management practices,” said Senator Romney. “When it comes to managing fires, lands and disasters, Washington bureaucrats are not the experts. My proposal will bring together officials from all levels of government, including county and city representation, and outside experts to improve strategies to prevent future wildfires from becoming catastrophic disasters in Utah and across the West.”
“We’re so excited for [Senator Romney’s] efforts now as Senator, representing the great state of Utah, at a national level the impact that he is having in helping to make a difference in wildfire mitigation,” Lieutenant Governor Cox said. “If you care about air quality, if you care about the environment at all, you should care about these efforts to mitigate the tremendous fires that are happening out there. That means that we have to get more involved in taking measures to keep our forests healthy, to allow for responsible grazing that reduces the fire load, and to make sure that we are removing the dead wood and other things that lead to these catastrophic wildfires.”
“This area is wilderness, and therefore it is not subject to some of the forestry management practices which might mitigate the risks of wildfires. Thus, the residents of homes in this neighborhood must take even more care to establish defensible space to protect their lives and their property. These circumstances all point for the need to re-examine and evaluate how to best control wildland fire risk in the age of a warming climate. As we have witnessed wildland fires rage across the west in the last few years, and particularly this summer, it’s apparent that we need to study and re-calibrate our response,” said Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini. “It’s time to take a look and ensure that we are following best practices, and it’s time to ensure that we have the best possible coordination between local, state and federal resources to address this increasing problem. It’s time to review and ensure that our firefighters have the best tools and resources to do their jobs—in equipment, apparatus, air resources and monitoring capabilities.”
“All of the wildfire entities here in Utah this year spent more than $50 million suppressing these fires. It’s a huge cost to the taxpayer. It’s a burden that we can’t afford to sustain as it continues to rise like that. So, one of the things, or actually the key thing that brings us the most success in instances like the Neff’s Fire is the interagency cooperation. And here in Utah, we’re very proud of the relationships that we share between the state of Utah, Forest Service, BLM and all of the other wildfire entities, including our local fire departments like UFA and others. So, as we get success from those partnerships, we realize that there are more partners that could be at the table. We’re very grateful to the Governor’s office for their leadership and their support. We’re grateful for Senator Romney and his leadership and his support. And we’re anxious to see what can be done in bringing more stakeholders together, more people to that table, to address the major problem,” said Jason Curry of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.
“Senator Romney’s plan is a long-overdue and much-needed plan to address fire mitigation practices and rehabilitate our forests in Utah, particularly the commission’s focus on increasing fire response resources and reducing fuel loads to prevent wildfires before they occur. I appreciate the Senator’s focus to elevate local leaders and make sure they have a seat at the table.” said Garth “Tooter” Ogden, Sevier County Commissioner and wildland firefighter for Richfield City.
The Wildland Fire Mitigation & Management Commission Act of 2020 establishes a commission of federal and non-federal stakeholders – including city and county level representation – to study and recommend fire mitigation, management, and rehabilitation policies for forests and grasslands. The Commission, jointly managed by the Secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, and Administrator of FEMA, is tasked with reporting to Congress recommendations on short- and long-term wildland fire mitigation and land maintenance to prevent future wildland fires from becoming catastrophic disasters. The Commission will consider policies to improve forest management tactics, federal spending and budgeting for wildland fires, and long-term management and land maintenance policies. Click here for a detailed summary.