Idaho’s Crapo: FEMA should spend more on wildfire prevention

Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., say spending to prevent wildfires saves $5 for every dollar spent and are urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to press the Federal Emergency Management Agency to focus more resources on mitigation.

In a letter to leading appropriators, Crapo and Bennet note that wildfire killed 13 last year, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and caused an estimated $1 billion in economic damages. Already this year, 19 firefighters died in an Arizona fire.

The pair wrote to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who chairs the Appropriations Subcommitee on Homeland Security, and the ranking Republican on the panel, Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, on Friday.

“We ask you to work with FEMA to ensure that a greater share of its pre-disaster mitigation resources go to wildfire mitigation efforts.  Requiring FEMA to report on its efforts to date to support wildfire mitigation projects, and its plans to support fire mitigation activities going forward, would be an important first step.  And we hope to explore additional fire mitigation and preparedness options with the subcommittee, in order to prevent taxpayer dollars from being needlessly consumed in expensive fire suppression operations down the road.”

Also on Friday, Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador called out Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, warning that the Obama administration may play a “political blame game” and fault Congress for spending cuts that Vilsack says took 500 firefighters and 50 engines from the field this season. Labrador said poor forest management that allowed fuel buildup is responsible for heightened fire hazard and that fire devastation is unconnected to cuts under sequestration.

A Monday afternoon news release from Crapo and Bennet is available here and also pasted below:

 

Crapo, Bennet Fight for FEMA Funding to Prevent Wildfires

Urge Appropriations Committee to prioritize FEMA funding for wildfire mitigation efforts

 Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) are urging Congress to support more resources for wildfire mitigation efforts.

Crapo and Bennet today urged the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security to push the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to use a greater share of its mitigation funding to prevent catastrophic wildfires in the coming years.  As a first step they believe FEMA should report its efforts to date to support wildfire mitigation projects as well as plans to support fire mitigation activities going forward.

In a letter to the subcommittee’s chair and ranking member, the Senators shared concerns that current funding levels are inadequate to address the growing threat of wildfires which continue to increase in frequency and intensity.

“As wildfires continue to burn across the western United States, threatening lives, uprooting families and causing millions of dollars of damage, we write to express our concern that FEMA is currently allocating insufficient disaster mitigation funding to prevent and mitigate against wildfires.  We request that your subcommittee use the fiscal year 2014 appropriations process to focus more attention on this priority,” Crapo and Bennet wrote.  “Nationally, the fires killed 13 firefighters and civilians last year, destroyed over 2,000 homes, and caused an estimated $1 billion in economic losses. Massive fires in both of our states significantly contributed to this national toll.  And this summer has brought a fresh stream of new fires, many of which continue to burn.”

The recent wildfire in Arizona, which killed 19 brave firefighters battling to contain the flames just earlier this month, underscores yet again the critical importance of this issue, and the need for more mitigation to prevent these large fires on the front end.  A 2007 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.  For every dollar FEMA has spent through the PDM fund on wildfire mitigation, it has saved more than $5 in future disaster losses.

“We ask you to work with FEMA to ensure that a greater share of its pre-disaster mitigation resources go to wildfire mitigation efforts.  Requiring FEMA to report on its efforts to date to support wildfire mitigation projects, and its plans to support fire mitigation activities going forward, would be an important first step.  And we hope to explore additional fire mitigation and preparedness options with the subcommittee, in order to prevent taxpayer dollars from being needlessly consumed in expensive fire suppression operations down the road.”

Bennet has worked tirelessly to attract critical federal resources to help combat wildfires and mitigate their effects.  Bennet has called for the modernization of our air tanker fleet to fight wildfires, led efforts to secure Emergency Watershed Protection resources to help Colorado communities recover from last year’s Waldo Canyon and High Park fires, authored key forest health and wildfire prevention provisions in the Senate Farm Bill and urged the President to expedite a request from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to issue federal major disaster declarations in response to the Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires.  He also led efforts to bring federal assistance to Colorado following last year’s High Park and Waldo Canyon fires, including organizing a letter of support urging the President to support Governor Hickelooper’s disaster declaration request.

Throughout his career in Congress, Crapo has worked to reduce the risk and severity of large-scale wildfires. In the U.S. Senate in particular, Crapo helped enact legislation, including the Healthy Forest Restoration Act and the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act, that have provided land managers with more tools to counter unhealthy conditions in our nation’s forests and other lands to reduce the fire threat. Crapo recently joined a bipartisan group of senators in urging President Obama not to reduce timber sales on Forest Service lands, as he called for in his 2014 budget.  The letter stressed the serious consequences reductions could have on communities across the nation and the need for increased timber harvests to help mitigate raging wildfires and help create jobs in our forests.

The text of the letter is attached.

 

To directly link to this news release, please use the following address:

 

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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