Record editorial: Park City’s drought makes clear that funding is crucial for fire commission’s success
In the midst of a historic drought, Utah and other Western states are facing the prospect of another horrific wildfire season. It’s clear that, as the effects of climate change continue to worsen, the massive blazes seen in the West in recent summers are no aberration — they are what we can now expect in any year.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney wants to do something about it. He recently unveiled the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission Act of 2021, legislation that would create a commission of federal officials and stakeholders in the West that would recommend forest management and fire prevention strategies. The goal is to limit the potential of catastrophic blazes that have devastated so many communities.
The commission would not be a cure-all, but it is nonetheless a good start, an opportunity to create a unified response to a crisis that shows no sign of stopping and very real signs of worsening.
The idea of setting a new course for federal catastrophic wildfire prevention is a timely and necessary one. Our forests have become tinderboxes and strict policies calling for the immediate suppression of fires have meant that some places haven’t had a natural fire cycle, something that is important for forest health, in a century or more.
We welcome a commission to study the problem and recommend solutions, but officials must fight to secure funding for those solutions if real progress is to be made — the $1 million included in the legislation is not nearly enough.
If the effort is truly to succeed, officials must populate the commission with experts who are willing to take a hard look at traditional fire suppression methods and the bureaucracies that some say hinder proper fire prevention work. And Congress must fund the solutions the experts recommend.
Of course, Congress may ignore the commission’s work, and it might be tempting for politicians to do just that, especially if the committee’s recommendations appear to be unpopular. The commission could advocate against fire suppression, for example, or request significant funding to buy a fleet of firefighting aircraft.
Romney, who is joined on the legislation by Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly and Utah Republican Rep. John Curtis, intends to attach the legislation to the infrastructure bill he said is likely to pass through Congress shortly. It is crucial the bipartisan coalition secures enough funding to pay for the commission’s recommendations.
With an unsettling feeling in the 90-degree early-summer air that a major fire is a matter of when, not if, we know this issue can no longer wait.
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