Sep 16, 2022 - Politics

Biden's wildfire commission convenes in Salt Lake City for first meeting

A smoky view of downtown Salt Lake City.
Smoke shrouds the Utah State Capitol and downtown skyline Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP

The Biden administration's newly formed Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission met for the first time this week in Salt Lake City.

Details: The commission, made up of federal, state and local leaders, convened over two days to discuss ways to better mitigate future wildfires from becoming catastrophic.

Why it matters: Utah is one of the most wildfire-prone states in the nation, and many people here have felt the impacts of fires through smoky air, evacuations and destroyed property.

  • Last year, 1,131 wildfires burned 63,792 acres across the state, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
  • Even after a wildfire is put out, burn scars can lead to flooding.

Context: The commission, charged with providing policy recommendations, was formed this year through a bill authored by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). It became law with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act's passage.

  • Salt Lake City was chosen as the commission's first meeting site due to its connection with Romney and Utah being at high risk for wildfires.

What they're saying: "[Wildfires] are going to occur, but their impact is going to depend on how we as a nation respond," U.S. Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell told Axios Salt Lake City.

  • Climate change and drought have exacerbated wildfires seen across the West, she added.

In a video to the commission, Romney called the commission's work "extraordinarily consequential."

  • "With fires becoming more devastating and frequent, the policy recommendations and strategies can be a critical step in better protecting our communities and the environment," he said.

Of note: Utahns who serve on the commission include Utah State Hazard Mitigation Officer Kathy Holder and Rich County Commissioner Bill Cox.

What's next: The commission is required to submit a report to Congress by January.

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