Earlier this month Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) announced he will introduce legislation establishing a commission to address wildfire policies and mitigation.
Speaking at a news conference in Neffs Canyon, near Salt Lake City, Romney made the announcement as the state has experienced over 1,400 fires this year, totaling approximately 311,000 acres, with the East Fork fire in Ashley National Forest burning over 85,000 acres.
“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 Romney in a statement.
“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.”
The legislation, titled the Wildland Fire Mitigation & Management Commission Act of 2020, would establish a commission to study and recommend fire mitigation, management, and rehabilitation policies for forests and grasslands.
The commission would be comprised of federal, county and city stakeholders jointly managed by the secretaries of the USDA and the Interior, and administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The commission would provide to Congress two separate reports, Recommendations to Mitigate and Manage Fires and Firefighting Aircraft, and Aircraft Parts Inventory Assessment.
“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,” said Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in a statement. “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 deadwood and other things that lead to these catastrophic wildfires.”
Throughout the West, the region has experienced an unprecedented fire season with over two million more acres burning than the 10-year average. The National Interagency Fire Center released its monthly outlook on Oct. 1 for the entire country and stated, “Above normal significant fire potential is expected across much of California, Arizona, eastern Nevada, Utah, Colorado Rockies, and southern Wyoming in October.
“However, fire activity and potential will likely diminish across the West, except for portions of California, and remain normal over the Eastern and Southern areas through November. Elevated periods of fire activity are likely in portions of Oklahoma and Texas and possibly in other locations in the Southern area during fall into winter.”
As of Oct. 20, there have been 41 fatalities as a result of the wildfires. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor