Sen. Bennet vows to pump in more federal dollars to mitigate wildfire risk

Published: Mar. 24, 2021 at 2:36 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - As the weather starts to warm up, homeowners in the western U.S. are putting measures in place to protect their homes from wildfire risk.

With wildfires a threat year-round, Colorado Springs community leaders are helping homeowners protect life and property.

“Doing mitigation work when a wildfire is at your back door, that’s not the time to be doing it,” said Ashley Whitworth, the Colorado Springs Fire Department’s Wildfire Mitigation Program Administrator. “It takes years and it takes maintenance work to do it, it is never-ending.

Whitworth’s team of less than a dozen crew members and wood chippers meet with homeowner’s associations annually to educate them on clearing and removing trees, branches and brush.

“It’s going to give your home the best standalone survivability,” she said.

The wildfire mitigation efforts are funded by state, federal and independent grants. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) said he wants to see more federal dollars spent to help the West before the flames start.

“We have been penny wise and pound foolish, we’ve been spending a ridiculous amount fighting fires instead of spending money on the front end,” Bennet said.

Bennet said he is planning to introduce the Outdoor Restoration Partnerships Act, proposing $60 billion dollars for mitigation, national forest restoration and resilience efforts.

His plan would allocate $20 billion towards helping state and local communities and tribes mitigate wildfire risk, while $40 billion would go to federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Interior to enhance forest and watershed health and improve wildlife habitats.

While environmental groups support home hardening measures to keep residents and their homes safe, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Randi Spivak said she is concerned Bennet’s bill could backfire, damaging national forests. Spivak said she is worried the senator’s bill could lead to damaging logging projects.

“When I see something so vague, to me that sets off alarm bells,” said Spivak. “The terms restoration and resilience have unfortunately been abused.”

She said she prefers legislation with a state cost-sharing program to involve local leaders.

Bennet is expected to introduce his bill in the coming months in the Senate.

To find out more about how you can reduce the wildfire risk in your home, click here. Colorado Springs’ chipping service for trees and vegetation begins on April 19.

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