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What Mitt Romney, John Curtis want to do after wildfires char the land

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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, talks about wildfire policies at the Neff’s Canyon trailhead in Millcreek on Oct. 15, 2020.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, talks about his plan to establish a wildfire commission during a press conference at the Neff’s Canyon trailhead in Millcreek on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

With wildfires already charring thousands of acres in Utah this year, two members of the state’s congressional delegation brought back bipartisan plans to expedite cleanup and prevent future disasters.

Republicans Sen. Mitt Romney and Rep. John Curtis say they saw a need to streamline the mitigation process after seeing the bureaucratic hurdles communities in Utah and Duchesne counties faced in the wake of large fires in 2018.

“With more than 126 wildfires burning more than 6,200 acres of land, Utah’s 2021 fire season has already surpassed the five-year average for this time of year,” Romney said in a statement. “We are proud to continue advocating for leaders in our state by reintroducing this legislation, which would cut through the red tape that local communities face in the aftermath of wildfires to make it easier for them to recover.”

Romney, Curtis, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., say the Making Access to Cleanup Happen Act would accelerate wildfire cleanup, save taxpayers money and prevent future disasters.

The bill directs the Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop a list of watershed rehabilitation activities for potential Emergency Watershed Protection program sponsors to carry out prior to project approval. It calls for the service to consult with state officials about watershed rehabilitation work. It would also ensure the activities count toward the program’s required 25% sponsor match.

Curtis said Utahns know the impacts of a wildfire do not end when the fire is out.

“Without quick action to rehabilitate and restore the land, it is left open to additional damage. While federal cleanup programs have been a significant recovery tool, administrative delays and backlogs too often lead to extra work and unnecessary cost overruns,” he said. “Communities need the flexibility to begin cleanup activities as soon as possible.”

Last year, Utah had wildfires burning every day from April 18 to Sept. 20. And wildfires have been increasing every year, with total fires up by about 100 per year since 2015 when 900 wildfires were reported. Nationally, 44,000 wildfires have burned in 2020, up from 40,000 the year before.