On Wednesday, Oct. 23, Dr. Raul Ruiz (D-36), along with three other congressmen, introduced legislation to authorize the Federal Emergency Management Agency to proactively coordinate with states and localities on wildfire mitigation projects.
The Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013 (H.R. 3333) places wildfires on par with other natural disasters such as floods and tornadoes. The result makes states eligible to receive another 15 percent of the total funds FEMA allocates for fire suppression to support wildfire-mitigation efforts.
“This year the West, including parts of my district, have had one of the most destructive and devastating wildfire seasons in history,” said Ruiz. “It is critical that we provide firefighters with the means necessary to reduce these disasters to save lives, property and resources. This bill is a commonsense solution that will go a long way towards helping California and other states prevent future wildfires.”
The bipartisan group of sponsors, along with Ruiz, includes Democrat Rep. Jared Polis from Colorado and two Republicans, Rep. Paul Cook (CA-8) and Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-3).
“Our forests provide limitless environmental and economic benefits when healthy and it’s our responsibility to preserve this incredible natural resource. Unfortunately many of our forest lands are in a state of emergency — at high risk for catastrophic wildfire due to unnaturally dense growth, drought conditions and other factors. We must do more to restore forest health, and prevent future loss of life and property to catastrophic wildfire. For too long we have been working to stop fires once they start instead of proactively addressing the conditions that cause them. As the old saying goes, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’” said Tipton, one of the co-sponsors.
The proposed legislation will allow FEMA to proactively fund the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program with an another 15 percent of funds already allocated for the Fire Management Assistance Grant program to address wildfire risks. The program’s funds currently are only used for wildfire suppression.
The bill adds the following language to the Robbert T. Stafford Disaster Relief Act: “(d) Post Disaster Mitigation Assistance — The president may provide hazard mitigation assistance in accordance with section 404 in any area in which assistance was provided under this section, whether or not a major disaster had been declared.”
H.R. 3333 has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. It is very similar to S. 1396, which Senators Mark Udall (CO-D) and James Inhofe (OK-R) introduced in the Senate on July 30.
This is important for western states that do not often experience major disaster declarations, but have frequent large wildfires.