US House passes wildfire, drought package - Albuquerque Journal

US House passes wildfire, drought package

The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire burns northeast of Pecos in this May 13 photo. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bipartisan bill package that would compensate Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire victims, reform Rio Grande management, create a federal water database and increase wildland firefighter pay. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

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As New Mexico endures crippling drought and wildfires, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bipartisan bill package that would compensate Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire victims, reform Rio Grande management, create a federal water database and increase wildland firefighter pay.

Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández said the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act that cleared the House on Friday “brings both hope and solutions.”

The New Mexico Democrat represents northern New Mexico, which is experiencing burn scar flooding after the largest wildfire in state history.

“If we don’t act on climate change and on improving our forests, we are going to be spending so much more of taxpayers’ money without anything beautiful to show for it,” she said. “Right now, all we have is burned trees.”

The government would create at least one prescribed burn training center in the western U.S. if the package passes.

“No community should be consumed by fires that our own government starts,” Leger Fernández said.

The legislation includes a bill to create a Rio Grande Basin water management plan.

The bill is timely as the river dries in New Mexico’s largest city, said Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-N.M.

“We have really good leaders in water with our State Engineer and federal managers,” Stansbury told the Journal. “Still, we know that some of the biggest schisms we’re having are in lawsuits over the compact. This would prompt everyone to look at the best science, and invest in conservation and restoration, and improvement projects.”

Stansbury also led bills to create a federal water database, fund pueblo irrigation infrastructure and waive some cost-sharing requirements for community water project grants.

Rep. Yvette Herrell cosponsored several water bills in the legislation.

But the New Mexico Republican differed with the state’s other representatives by opposing the wildfire bills.

Herrell said the bills would “add new red tape” and unnecessary wilderness areas.

“The most immediate way to protect Americans who are threatened by potential catastrophic wildfires is to prevent these fires from happening in the first place,” she said, “And the only way to do this is to actively manage our forests.”

The House passed the package 218-199. It will now head to the Senate.

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