Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is praising the award of $5.5 million to the state of Utah to boost wildfire resilience on nearly 25,000 acres of public land in a state that has been severely challenged by drought for more than two decades.

What Romney says: “As the American West continues to get drier and years of poor management practices have caused fires to become more destructive, it becomes more imperative that we improve strategies which bolster wildfire resilience and prevent future wildfires from becoming catastrophic disasters in our state and across the West,” Romney said.

The funding comes from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which the GOP senator helped to negotiate into passage. It includes $1.5 billion for the Department of Interior over the next five years to invest in preparedness, fuels management, post-fire restoration and fire science. It also directs major reforms for federal wildland firefighters, including temporary pay increases and a new occupational series classification more specific to firefighters.

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What the bill does to reduce wildfire risk: The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act directs investments in wildland fire management in Utah that will increase fuels treatment in areas with high wildfire hazard potential, helping to protect homes and businesses in the wildland-urban interface as well as public drinking water. These efforts, according to Romney, will promote climate resiliency across landscapes and communities and will employ tribal members, youth and veterans.  

The additional funding, overall, will help complete fuels treatments on nearly 2 million acres nationwide this fiscal year, a substantial increase over the prior year.

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Mapping risk: A portion of this year’s wildfire resilience funding from the act will be used to continue development of a wildfire risk mapping and mitigation tool, which is being developed jointly with USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters. The tool will assist land managers in collectively identifying potential wildfire risks and sharing planned and accomplished mitigation activities. 

According to a drought update from the Utah Division of Water Resources, more than 875 fires have burned in the state this year with 411 of them human-caused. That’s down 20% from the previous year, but it shows the risk of wildfires on the parched public lands is a real threat.

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