Utah lawmaker wants to force states and the feds to work together to stop fires

Rep. Blake Moore’s bill would create fireshed management plans.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Firefighters spray hot spots on a wildfire fire in Herriman on Friday, July 16, 2021. Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, is pushing a federal bill to help in the battle against wildfires.

What it takes to prevent wildfires in Utah may differ from the plans for Texas or Idaho.

A new bill, offered by Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, would allow for specialized “fireshed plans” and require state leaders to work with federal land managers to develop a detailed list of steps to reduce the threat that a fire could get out of control.

Moore’s plan is bipartisan, with Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, serving as his main co-sponsor. And it comes at a time when the Forest Service has already started to develop “fireshed” maps to focus on specific risks.

Moore said his bill would give “our land managers the tools they need to prevent, mitigate, and respond to wildfires.

“Over a billion acres of land in the U.S. are at risk for wildfires, and this is a major problem in Utah and across the West as we experience a historic drought season,” the freshman lawmaker said. “This rapid uptick in wildfires is due to forests being overstocked with fuel, fire exclusion policies, drought and more.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Blake Moore talks about his experience in the Capitol on Jan. 6, during a town hall meeting at the Weber County Library North Branch, in North Ogden, on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. The freshman lawmaker is pushing a new bill to combat wildfires.

Utah has already sent highly trained firefighters to other states. Here at home, crews are fighting two larger fires, though neither is threatening homes at this time. Government leaders have warned that this fire season could be a bad one.

The creation of fireshed management areas, under Moore’s bill, would result in plans focused on protecting critical infrastructure and wildlife habitats and mitigating threats to public health and watersheds. Governors could request them and the Department of Interior would have 90 days to enter into a partnership. That could lead to a number of mitigation efforts, such as removing dead trees, creating firebreaks in the land or setting planned fires, which are often called “prescribed burns.”

“The time has long passed to slowly chip away at our forest health issues and hope the problem will improve by next year,” said Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, who is the Senate sponsor of this legislation.

Sen. Mitt Romney and Rep. John Curtis, both Utah Republicans, have pushed another piece of legislation that is gaining traction. Their bill, which passed a Senate committee, would create a 28-member national commission to develop a broad strategy for fighting wildfires, including a study of where the government stations planes and helicopters that could respond to blazes quickly.