Date: Wednesday, September 14, 2022
SALT LAKE CITY, UT — Today, members of the Biden-Harris administration’s Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission met for the first time in Salt Lake City, Utah, to begin crafting federal policy recommendations and strategies on ways to better prevent, manage, suppress and recover from record wildfires across the West. Established by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and announced in December 2021, the commission is composed of representatives from federal agencies, state, local and Tribal governments, and representatives from the private sector. The commission is tasked with preparing a report with policy recommendations and submitting them to Congress within a year of its first in-person meeting.
Commission Co-Chairs Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and Federal Emergency Management Administration Deputy Administrator Erin Hooks delivered opening remarks and direction for the commission.
“As wildfire seasons become longer, more intense and more dangerous, President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is bringing much needed support to communities across the country to increase the resilience of lands and better support federal wildland firefighters,” said Secretary Haaland. “The task before us as a commission is to look for ways to use the tools we have, or invent new tools, to fill the gaps that we’re facing in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from wildland fire. We also need to commit to taking better care of those responding to wildfires throughout the year; their health, safety, and well-being is essential.”
“Wildland firefighters are on the front lines of climate change, and they are fighting the devastating wildfires that it is making more severe,” said Secretary Vilsack. “The Biden-Harris Administration knows how critical our firefighters are to protecting communities from wildfire, which is why the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law dedicated unprecedented resources to fire prevention and mitigation. The creation of this commission and its forthcoming recommendations to prevent, address, and recover from wildfires are critical to protecting communities and firefighters.”
“The truth is, urban, suburban, and rural communities, especially across the western United States, are being forced to rapidly adapt to the reality of year-round wildfires. This issue is only compounded by development across the wildland urban interface,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. “Now more than ever we need the right professionals, perspectives, and innovative ideas to solve these complex problems. With the support provided through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the incredible commitment from our USDA, DOI, state, tribal, and non-federal partners, we are confident the commission can achieve our goal of helping threatened communities become more resilient to wildfires.”
The commission’s work will build on existing interagency federal efforts such as the Wildland Fire Leadership Council and the White House Wildfire Resilience Interagency Working Group and will continue to pursue a whole-of-government approach to wildfire risk reduction and resilience. Its creation comes at an important time as shifting development patterns, land and fire management decisions, and climate change have turned fire “seasons” into fire “years” in which increasingly destructive fires are exceeding available federal firefighting resources. Future commission meetings will be monthly and take place virtually.
In addition to establishing the commission, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides historic funding for a suite of programs aimed at reducing wildfire risks, detecting wildfires, instituting firefighter workforce reforms and building more resilient infrastructure.
This year, the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture have allocated an initial $234 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investments for wildfire resilience efforts and established a new joint mental wellness program to equip federal wildland firefighters with post-traumatic stress disorder care and address environmental hazards to minimize on-the-job exposure.
These investments support the implementation of the Department of the Interior’s “Five-Year Monitoring, Maintenance, and Treatment Plan,” which provides a roadmap for addressing wildfire risk on Department of the Interior and Tribal lands. They also support the USDA Forest Service’s “Confronting the Wildfire Crisis” strategy, which aims to treat 20 million acres of national forests and grasslands and 30 million acres of state, local, Tribal and private lands over the next 10 years to reduce wildfire risk where it matters most. These plans help facilitate the collaborative work between the two Departments.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also supports landmark pay increases for federal wildland firefighters, announced on June 21, which aim to bring federal firefighter pay in alignment with their state and local counterparts, while aiding in recruitment and retention of a more permanent and stable wildland firefighting force across the federal government.