Rep. John Curtis participated in a legislative hearing with the Subcommittee of Federal Lands Wednesday morning in Washington, considering a bill on how to better manage wildfires in the U.S.

During the course of the hearing, Curtis spoke about the impacts of wildfires in Utah and questioned the deputy chief of the National Forest Service on what could be done to mitigate the effects of wildfires.

What is the proposed bill?

The goal of the new bill, proposed by Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, would be to advance policies of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 to improve forest management throughout the country through collaboration, per the hearing memo.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 was enacted with four parts:

  • “To declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment.”
  • “To promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare or man.”
  • “To enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the nation.”
  • “To establish a Council on Environmental Quality.”

Westerman’s bill would seek to promote these policies further by using “innovative solutions to increase the pace and scale of forest management and protect vulnerable communities from catastrophic wildfire and restore health and resiliency to our nations ailing forests and federal lands.”

To do so, the bill proposes addressing the threat of wildfires in various ways, including:

  • Focusing on high-risk areas using the U.S Forest Services Fireshed Registry.
  • Expanding collaborative tools across state, federal and tribal lands.
  • And addressing unnecessary litigation that impedes forest management.

What did Rep. John Curtis say during the hearing?

Curtis began his remarks by recognizing and thanking Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., for his work on the subject of wildfires, recognizing that though the politics are different on each side of the Utah-Colorado border, the problems the two states face in regard to wildfires are often the same.

Curtis then pointed out that the U.S. no longer has fire seasons, it has fire years. And those years can be particularly bad in the West, leading to problems with “water supply, air quality, recreation, ranching and grazing,” which for many people is their way of life.

In questioning National Forest System Deputy Chief Chris French, Curtis asked about what he would consider the “sweet spot” when it comes to working in a bipartisan manner to be proactive vs. reactive in fighting wildfires.

French responded, “It is so much more efficient to the American taxpayer to reduce wildland fire risk in the forest and the grasslands.” He pointed out that the effects of wildfires aren’t just local problems, they can have national consequences, too. “It’s the food we eat, it’s the communities that depend on the water, and every time we lose the ability to deliver one of those, the costs are enormous.”

Curtis then asked what Utah residents listening could do to combat wildfires on their own.

French said people need to look around their own properties and reduce fire risks there. “Do simple things if you can or take advantage of what our fire safe councils and others are offering,” he said. He also suggested broadening our field of vision to surrounding forests, whether that be state, federal or private land, and education ourselves on what healthy forests are supposed to look like.