Prevent wildfires, don’t fight them, is politicians’ mantra

With apologies to Michael Martin Murphey, they’re calling “Wildfire” in Washington, D.C.

The general idea is to spend money to keep fires from raging rather than paying to fight them, lawmakers said.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., joined forces in legislation that would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to work with local agencies on wildfire-mitigation projects.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., not to be outdone, is to lead a Senate subcommittee hearing on reducing the risk and severity of wildfires.

Tipton and another Colorado Democrat, Jared Polis, cosponsored the Wildfire Mitigation Act of 2013, which would authorize FEMA to treat wildfire on a par with other natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods and tornadoes and allow the agency to coordinate with states and localities on wildfire mitigation projects.

States would be eligible for an additional 15 percent of the funds FEMA allocates for fire suppression and that money could be used for wildfire mitigation.

Noting that the cheapest fire to fight is one that never burns, Udall said fire-mitigation projects the bill anticipates “will put Colorado communities and public-lands managers on the offense, heading off mega-fires before they even start.”

Putting money from the emergency-management agency into fire prevention will restore forests to a more healthy state while reducing the risk of catastrophic blazes “and doing so without increasing taxpayer spending,” Tipton said.

Preventive management would reduce the expense of firefighting and the cleanup costs afterward, Tipton’s office noted.

The measure is H.R. 3333, introduced by Rep. Paul Ruiz, D-Calif., and S. 1396.

Bennet, meanwhile, is to preside over a hearing entitled “Shortchanging Our Forests: How Tight Budgets and Management Decisions Can Increase the Chance of Wildfire.”

Bennet wants to show that modest spending in forest health and wildfire mitigation can help avoid greater firefighting costs that are paid from accounts for programs such as trail maintenance and timber-sales preparation, Bennet’s office said.

Bennet, chairman of the subcommittee on conservation, forestry and natural resources, will hear from Davey Pitcher, the president and CEO of Wolf Creek Ski Area, and El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, among other witnesses.


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