December 17, 2020

Neguse and Curtis Unveil Plans to Launch Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus in the 117th Congress

Washington D.C.—Today, Congressman Joe Neguse (D-Colorado) and Congressman John Curtis (R-Utah) unveiled plans to launch a bipartisan caucus in the 117th Congress to work collaboratively on wildfire mitigation and recovery solutions. 

The Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus will seek to elevate awareness and bipartisan consensus around wildfire management and mitigation, environmental and community protections, public health and safety, and wildfire preparedness and recovery in Congress. Notably, the caucus will require that members join in equal bipartisan numbers, and will serve as a useful tool for facilitating conversations and cultivating solutions for communities facing wildfire. 

“Wildfire mitigation and response must be a year-round priority. The devastating and record-breaking nature of our wildfire season in Colorado and throughout the western U.S. this year makes that perfectly clear,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “In the midst of the pandemic, when our firefighters were faced with dual crises and uncertain safety conditions, Congressman Curtis and I partnered together to introduce legislation to address these public safety concerns. The Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus will build on this bipartisan collaboration and ensure in the 117th Congress and beyond, Congress is prioritizing the needs of our local fire crews, our western communities, and fire mitigation and recovery efforts in the wake of increasingly more damaging and more deadly wildfires.”

“Utahns know the destruction that wildfires leave in their wake and the importance of common-sense forest management that can save lives and property. During my time in Congress, improving wildfire mitigation, response, and recovery efforts has been a top priority, and I am committed to creating a diverse coalition of stakeholders to work towards stopping preventable disasters. Congressman Neguse and I share the unfortunate experience of seeing firsthand how devastating wildfires are to the land and surrounding communities, and because of that, also share a commitment to working across the aisle to find ways to protect our communities and ensure they quickly bounce back after a fire,” said Congressman John Curtis. “I am excited to announce the creation of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus to bring together Republicans and Democrats to find common ground and advocate for policies that will help communities recover and respond to catastrophic wildfires, as well as avoid them in the first place.”

Representatives Neguse and Curtis have worked together throughout the 116th Congress to address wildfires in the West. In 2019, together they introduced the Study on Improving Lands (SOIL) Act which evaluates the effects of wildfire and land use practices on the ability of soil to sequester carbon. Last April, they introduced the Wildfire and Community Health Response Act of 2020 aimed at supporting the health of firefighters and mitigating the impact of wildfires on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus will: 

  • Advocate for wildfire-related programs, including funding for disaster relief, prevention, and mitigation;
  • Share federal relief programs and resources with communities before, during and after wildfire season; and
  • Highlight balanced and bipartisan science-based wildfire management and mitigation proposals in Congress.

“Every year we experience another record-breaking wildfire season and its catastrophic consequences, it is a tragic reminder that we must do more to care for and manage our wildlands and protect communities,” said Lynn Scarlett, Chief External Affairs Officer, The Nature Conservancy. “The formation of this bipartisan House caucus affirms that wildfires affect us all. We must reduce the dangers of wildfire, improve forest health and resilience, strengthen our wildfire response and expand post-fire restoration. We commend the caucuses' founders for working toward bipartisan solutions for the country's wildfire challenges.”

“Wildfire is an important natural process in our environment, but uncharacteristic wildfire is a persistent threat, especially in western states, due to a host of past management practices and climate factors,” said James D. Ogsbury, Executive Director, Western Governors’ Association. “The Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus is an exciting platform to bring attention to these challenges and seek bipartisan solutions to increase the health and resilience of our communities and ecosystems. WGA is pleased to see the formation of the new Caucus and I especially want to thank its Chairs, Representatives Joe Neguse of Colorado and John Curtis of Utah, for their bipartisan leadership on this matter of great importance to the West.”

“The National Association of State Foresters applaud Representatives Curtis (R-UT) and Neguse (D-CO) for their bipartisan leadership and look forward to bringing our collective expertise in support of the work of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus. State Foresters agree more must be done to minimize the threat of catastrophic wildfire. With more people living in fire-prone landscapes close to wildlands, protecting communities as well as state, private, and federal lands from wildfire has become increasingly difficult. Without increased and coordinated efforts in active forest management, fire prevention, and wildfire suppression, wildfires will continue to pose a threat to our nation’s forests and destroy our communities,” said Joe Fox, President, National Association of State Foresters, Arkansas State Forester. 

Background

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the West has seen one of the worst fire seasons on record. As fire seasons grow longer and communities face increasingly destructive and costly wildfires, it is imperative that Congress prioritize proactive, science-based forest management policies to improve national preparedness and response to wildfire. Adequate fire preparation, mitigation, response, and recovery efforts are critical to ensuring communities are resilient and have every tool necessary to protect lives, property, and the land itself. 

Wildfire mitigation and response is a year-round legislative priority for Congressman Neguse. Since taking office, he has worked to ensure Colorado’s firefighters and first responders are supported and that necessary investments are made at the federal level in wildfire resiliency and recovery efforts. In March, Congressman Neguse led an effort with Chairman Peter DeFazio requesting increased funds for the Joint Fire Science Program. In April, as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, Congressman Neguse sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was successful in ensuring firefighters and first responders be given priority for COVID-19 tests.

As Colorado has experienced a devastating and relentless wildfire season in 2020, Congressman Neguse has worked in close coordination with local firefighters and emergency management officials to ensure that communities in the 2nd Congressional District and across Colorado have the federal funds they need to contain these fires and recover. At the height of devastating wildfires in the 2nd district, Congressman Neguse helped secure FEMA funds for containment efforts of the CalWood, East Troublesome and Cameron Peak Fires. He recently introduced the Wildfire Recovery Act, legislation to increase the federal cost-share on Fire Assistance Grants to bring in more federal resources to local communities in the 2nd Congressional District recovering from wildfires. He also sent a letter to the Departments of Agriculture and Interior requesting an increase in late-season federal wildland resources by extending interagency hotshot contracts, and led a bipartisan effort with Congressman Garret Graves requesting supplemental resources for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP). In September, Congressman Neguse passed an amendment through the House of Representatives to collect data and coordinate research on the impacts of acute air pollution exposure from wildfires, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This summer, Congressman Neguse introduced the 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps for our Health and Our Jobs Act in the House, alongside Senator Ron Wyden, which would make major investments in wildfire resiliency and mitigation efforts, as well as major investments in conservation and forest restoration. The pair also sent a letter to House and Senate leadership requesting that funds for wildfire relief and many of the programs outlined in this bill, be included in the next COVID-19 stimulus package. 

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