USA – Congressman Joe Neguse is spearheading the launch of a new bipartisan wildfire caucus next year in hopes of raising awareness around the growing dangers of wildfires in Colorado and across the Western United States.
Neguse, a Democrat representing Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, is co-chairing the new caucus alongside Republican Congressman John Curtis of Utah, meant to provide a collaborative voice in the Legislature to advocate for new wildfire-related programs on a national scale. Officials are planning to roll out the group during the 117th United States Congress in January.
The move comes on the back of the worst wildfire season in Colorado’s history, in which the state saw its three largest recorded wildfires ever. This year, almost a half-million acres burned in Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District alone, which includes Summit, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Grand, Larimer, and portions of Boulder, Eagle, Jefferson, Park and Weld counties.
“It signals the need to take this seriously, and to engage in some robust and candid conversations about what comes next,” Neguse said.
Neguse said the caucus would advocate for new wildfire-related programs that include funding for prevention and mitigation efforts, along with disaster relief for impacted communities.
There is a dedicated push to make the caucus bipartisan, requiring that new members join in equal numbers from across the political aisle in hopes of putting politics aside and focusing on the science.
“We believe this caucus can help turn down the temperature of our politics so that we can depoliticize these critical issues that matter to the people I represent, the people Congressman Curtis represents, and ultimately the American people writ at large,” Neguse said. “Forest management has become highly politicized, as has climate change, the consequences of climate change, and the need for our federal government to address that in a systematic and comprehensive way. … Part of the goal of this is for me and my fellow co-chair to lend our respective political capital to making the case on both fronts with our colleagues in the House Democratic Caucus and the House Republican Caucus.”
Neguse said there has already been considerable interest from lawmakers around the Western United States, and that caucus members will be working closely with other federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and others to develop a road map to help communities better support firefighter operations, new technologies, wildfire mitigation efforts, relief funds and more.
With a road map in place, officials will begin prioritizing new legislative and regulatory work to start making concrete changes.
“I expect to see some results within the first six months of the caucus’ existence,” Neguse said. “There’s something to be said about having a venue in which we can have thoughtful, candid conversations about prioritization of some of these issues. But at the end of the day the goal is to create a consensus we’d like to see the administration pursue, and ultimately introduce legislation that addresses some of those challenges signed into law by President-elect Biden.”
Neguse said that continuing the caucus into future congressional sessions was another goal, but that it would be dependent on demonstrating that it has made a difference. Both Neguse and Curtis have voiced optimism that the development of the caucus would make a lasting impact on communities around the west faced with the threat of wildfires.
The bipartisan wildfire caucus is at least the third wildfire-related project that Neguse and Curtis have worked on together. Earlier this year Neguse and Curtis co-sponsored the Study on Improving Lands Act and the Wildfire and Community Health Response Act, which focused on studying the impacts of wildfires on soil and mitigating wildfire risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, respectively.
“Utahns know the destruction that wildfires leave in their wake and the importance of commonsense forest management that can save lives and property,” Curtis said in a news release. “During my time in Congress, improving wildfire mitigation, response, and recovery efforts has been a top priority, and I am committed to creating a diverse coalition of stakeholders to work towards stopping preventable disasters. Congressman Neguse and I share the unfortunate experience of seeing firsthand how devastating wildfires are to the land and surrounding communities and, because of that, also share a commitment to working across the aisle to find way to protect our communities and ensure they quickly bounce back after a fire.”