U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is calling for the creation of a wildfire commission that would review federal wildfire policy and make recommendations to Congress.

Romney introduced the Wildfire Mitigation and Management Commission Act of 2021 on Friday at a press conference in Draper. Standing at an outdoor podium in front of two fire trucks overlooking the Draper mountains, the senator addressed Utah’s extreme drought and wildfire conditions.

“Lives have been lost; structures have been lost; businesses have gone out of business because of fire,” he said. “And we keep doing things the way we’ve done them in the past without recognizing that the world has changed. It’s getting drier in the American west; our state’s getting drier. The fires are becoming bigger, the loss of life is more significant and continuing to do the things the way we’ve done them in the past doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

According to a description of the bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, it would establish a commission of federal and nonfederal stakeholders, including city and county officials, “to study and recommend fire prevention, mitigation, management, and rehabilitation policies for forests and grasslands.”

The 28-member commission, made up of three federal co-chairs, eight federal members and 17 nonfederal members, would be tasked with “recommending policies to improve forest management tactics, federal spending and budgeting for wildland fires, and long-term management and land maintenance strategies.”

Additionally, the commission would be tasked with “reporting to Congress policy recommendations on short- and long-term wildland fire prevention, mitigation, suppression, management, and rehabilitation to avert future wildland fires from becoming catastrophic disasters.”

Romney criticized the current federal wildland fire policy for being a “patchwork of legislation and agency guidance across departments and jurisdictions, further complicated by mixed land ownership.”

“So the focus of this commission is to make sure that we have a comprehensive strategy for preventing fires from occurring to the extent possible, and also getting them out as quickly as possible,” he said at Friday’s press conference.

Jamie Barnes, acting director of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, noted that 85% of the 380 wildfires in Utah this year have been human-caused. Those fires have burned approximately 40,000 acres of land.

“The issues here in Utah with regard to wildfire and drought are real and unprecedented,” Barnes said, adding that “fire-sense is more important than ever before.”

Barnes praised Romney’s bill, which she said “addresses the importance of collaboration, bringing forward the best tools and addressing major problems.”

“We must convene and make the best policy decisions,” she said. “We must manage lands and prevent catastrophic wildfire(s).”

Romney urged federal lawmakers to support the bill and get it passed during a “tough year” for wildfires.

“We’re going to have a real tough season. And so we’re going to have to take advantage of this circumstance to get Congress to put together this commission, to give it the funding it needs and to use the resources we have to finally be able to effectively address this problem,” he said.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, will introduce the bipartisan bill in the House, according to Romney.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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