Bennet, Hickenlooper Call on Agriculture Secretary Vilsack to Assist Colorado Communities Recovering from Devastating Wildfires

Colorado News

Smoke rises from mountain ridges as a wildfire burns Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, near Granby, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Yesterday, Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D), a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and John Hickenlooper (D), a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, called on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack to support wildfire recovery efforts in Colorado after the state faced the three largest wildfires in Colorado history in 2020. 

In the letter, Bennet and Hickenlooper highlighted the importance of USDA programs like the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) program to ongoing wildfire recovery efforts. While effective, these programs are often hamstrung by administrative hurdles and inconsistent funding. 

“Last summer, wildfires consumed over 10 million acres across the country, with almost 50 percent burning on National Forest Service land. In Colorado, we saw the three largest fires in state history and over 350,000 acres burned on federal land,” wrote Bennet and Hickenlooper in a letter to Secretary Vilsack. “[W]e encourage you to use USDA’s broad discretion to maximize flexibilities as needed, and we stand ready to work with you in Congress to ensure that wildfire recovery programs have the funding and flexibility they need.”

“We appreciate your demonstrated commitment to our forests and watersheds and look forward to working with you in the months ahead to ensure that Colorado communities have a partner in the USDA as they recover from these devastating wildfires,” the senators concluded.

As a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Bennet has consistently worked in Congress to improve EWP project delivery—urging the Government Accountability Office to review the program and introducing the Making Access to Cleanup Happen (MATCH) Act with U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) to expedite cleanup and increase flexibility for local matching requirements.

In September, Bennet led U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and U.S. Representatives Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) in urging the USDA to quickly approve EWP funding to mitigate and recover from wildfire damage. Days later, Bennet announced USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) approved the first tranche of EWP funds for $5 million worth of projects in Colorado to mitigate and recover from wildfires. Later that month, Bennet and a group of Western Democratic senators sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to provide additional federal assistance to improve the response to wildfires and assist the states, Tribes, and communities grappling with fires and their aftermath.

In October, Bennet joined his colleagues in asking the National Guard for a report on its readiness to help states prepare, fight, and recover from wildfires. Later that month, Bennet, Neguse, and Gardner sent a letter to the USFS and USDA NRCS to request that they work with the State of Colorado and local governments to address the threat posed by recent fires to the region’s watersheds and water supply. Bennet also urged Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to improve pay, job stability, and benefits for federal wildfire personnel. At the end of the month, Bennet visited Grand and Larimer counties to meet with local officials and first responders to assess the damage from the East Troublesome fire and the Cameron Peak fire.

In November, Bennet led Wyden, Gardner, and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in two letters requesting that the Senate Committee on Appropriations include funding for wildfire recovery efforts in the West in the end-of-year appropriations.

In December, Bennet and the entire Colorado Congressional Delegation sent a letter to Trump urging swift approval of Colorado Governor Jared Polis’s request to designate Colorado’s wildfires as a Major Disaster to bring in needed recovery funds for the state. In January, the administration granted the disaster declaration. The text of today’s letter is available HERE.

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