U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, is leading an effort to secure funding to prevent and mitigate wildfires in Utah and other Western states.
Curtis, co-chair of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, joined a handful of federal lawmakers in requesting funds that “could be used to increase the pace and scale of hazardous fuels management and forest restoration; improve ecosystem health; reduce the risk of severe flooding and erosion in forests after fire; protect critical watersheds; and bolster support for the wildland firefighting workforce,” according to a Thursday press release.
In a letter to the House Committee on Appropriations, Curtis and six other members of Congress, including Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, requested “robust funding to programs in the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill that will support improved wildfire preparedness, mitigation, and response across the United States.”
“2020 was a historic wildfire year,” wrote members of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, citing National Interagency Fire Center reports that U.S. wildfires burned over 10 million acres in 2020, the highest yearly total since accurate records began in 1983.
They continued, “In addition to the widespread economic toll of these fires, the direct death toll from the 2020 wildfire season is at least 43.”
The letter also cites a policy brief from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, which estimates that wildfire smoke “is likely responsible for 5,000 to 15,000 deaths in an average year in the U.S.” and notes that “smokier years like 2018 or 2020 will have a much higher death toll.”
“Such a historic challenge requires a proportionate response,” the congressmen wrote. “We implore you to provide robust funding to programs that help address the many wildfire preparedness, response, and recovery challenges our nation faces today.”
The congressmen also urged the committee “to consider both the short- and long-term causes of wildfire and to fund programs that support forest health — including investments in research being done at federal laboratories and research institutions across the country to ensure that the best available science is used in wildfire mitigation, response, and recovery, is a priority.”
In a written statement, Curtis wrote that it “is imperative that the federal government prepares to respond and recover after a wildfire starts,” adding that “equally important is our ability to prevent disasters in the first place.”
Moore, who represents Utah’s 1st Congressional District, wrote that conditions in Utah “will likely yield a difficult wildfire season this year, and it is imperative that we use our resources to alleviate the adverse impacts this will have on our lands and communities.”
The proposal for funding to prevent wildfires in the Western U.S. comes after Utah had its most expensive wildfire season on record.
Other congressmen that signed the letter requesting federal funding included Reps. Joe Neguse, D-Colorado, Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, Tom O’Halleran, D-Arizona and Doug LaMalfa, R-California.