On July 29, the House voted along party lines to pass the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act (H.R. 5118), a package of 48 bills that would boost wildfire resilience and preparedness, increase salaries for wildland firefighters, and fund water conservation efforts to address the drought in Western states.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO), said the bill “meets the moment” for Western states struggling with wildfires and drought. “Across America the impacts of climate change continue to worsen, and in this new normal historic droughts and record setting wildfires have become all too common. What once were wildfire seasons are now wildfire years,” he added.
The bill would approve a 10-year wildfire strategy at the U.S. Forest Service, provide $500 million for forest management projects; allocate $500 million to carry out vegetation, watershed, wildlife and fisheries management activities; and direct the Department of Agriculture to conduct 20 large forest restoration projects over five years.
Notably, the package includes provisions from H.R. 5781, the National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program Act, which was introduced by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) last year. This measure would boost research on wildfire prediction, firefighting, and impacts to human health, including the impacts of climate change on wildfires. It also includes provisions to research active management of forests and prescribed burns, and to create a National Advisory Committee on Wildland Fire Risk Reduction. The initiatives envisioned in H.R. 5781 would be accomplished across a number of federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Energy.
The drought portion of the legislation would invest $500 million in efforts by the Department of the Interior to “reduce the near-term likelihood of Lake Mead and Lake Powell declining to critically low water elevations.” The package also includes a measure called the “Water Data Act,” which would create a multiagency initiative to track and standardize information on streamflow, precipitation, groundwater, soil moisture, snow, evaporation, water quality, and water use to improve water resources management.
H.R. 5118 will now be taken up in the Senate, where its future is uncertain.
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