Romney Joins Utah Officials to Unveil Bill to Improve Wildfire Policy

draper wildfire commission unveiling
SALT LAKE CITY— In Draper City today, U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) announced the upcoming introduction of the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission Act of 2021, legislation to establish a wildfire commission which would conduct a national review of wildfire policy and make recommendations to Congress. Romney was joined by Draper City Mayor Troy Walker and Acting Director of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands Jamie Barnes, who spoke in support of the Senator’s efforts. Senator Romney plans to formally introduce the legislation next week with U.S. Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ). Companion legislation will be introduced in the House by Representative John Curtis (R-UT).

Last year, nearly 60,000 fires burned across ten million acres, more than 53,000 of which were human-caused fires, according to the National Interagency Fire Council. So far this year, in Utah, nearly 400 fires have burned more than 40,000 acres of land. Almost 90% of these fires are human-caused.

Current federal wildland fire policy is a patchwork of legislation and agency guidance across departments and jurisdictions, further complicated by mixed landownership. This bill would require a review of the nation’s wildland firefighting strategy, accompanied by specific policy recommendations, by a commission made up of the nation’s top experts, including state and local stakeholders. A one-pager of the legislation is available here.

“It’s getting drier in the American West—our state is getting drier. The fires are becoming bigger. The loss of life is more significant.  And continuing to do things the way we’ve done them in the past doesn’t make a lot of sense. And that’s the reason that Senator Kelly of Arizona and I have introduced a piece of legislation to create a commission which would be focused on mitigating the effects of fires and preventing them from happening,” said Senator Romney. “The policies of the past are hung up on the fact that we have land owned by different folks. Sometimes one department of the federal government takes responsibility for land…other times it’s state land, [or] private land. Each has different rules and regulations and we just don’t get a coordinated, comprehensive approach to preventing fire. So the focus of this commission is to make sure that we have a comprehensive strategy for preventing fires from occurring, to the extent possible, and also getting them out as quickly as possible.”

“In Draper, we have homes that are right in this wildland interface and many communities in Utah are in the same situation we are. Our entire state is in the driest phase it’s been in since 1895 and its not getting any wetter… Senator Romney’s plan is a long-overdue and much-needed plan to address fire mitigation practices and rehabilitation of our forests and grasslands in Utah. It’s a commonsense approach which would elevate local leaders and make sure they have a seat at the table with federal partners to assess and make recommendations on wildland fire mitigation and land maintenance in order to prevent future wildland fires from becoming catastrophic disasters.” – Troy Walker, Draper City Mayor

“The issues here in Utah with regard to wildfire and drought are real and unprecedented… With over 380 fires on Utah’s landscape and more than 40,000 acres burned, addressing mitigation, management, rehabilitation, and prevention is a priority… We must convene and make the best policy decisions. We must manage lands and prevent catastrophic wildfire. This Act addresses the importance of collaboration, bringing forward the best tools, and addressing major problems—we support that. In Utah, we are grateful for Senator Romney’s support and leadership.”
– Jamie Barnes, Acting Director of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands