Wildfire Panel Includes One Wildcard: Mitt Romney
Elected officials and wildfire experts will meet Thursday afternoon in Salt Lake City to discuss how to prevent catastrophic wildfires from springing up in Utah and across the west.
But one member of the panel organized by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is raising eyebrows.
Mitt Romney, the former governor of coastal Massachusetts, is given top billing on the agenda. Federal and state foresters, firefighters and Utah. Gov. Gary Herbert will also speak.
"Each of them has some expertise or oversees an element of this challenge with the one exception of Mitt Romney," said Jenny Wilson, the Democrat running against Romney in the race for Utah's open Senate seat.
"It seems to me to be a little bit of a buddy-to-buddy move by Rep. Bishop to include him," she said.
Wilson questioned whether Romney had any experience with large wildfires in Massachusetts while he was governor.
According to the Massachusetts Bureau of Forest Fire Control website, "the average size burn has been reduced from more than 34 acres to 1.17 acres" since 1911.
In an essay on his campaign website earlier this month, Romney wrote about witnessing destruction from recent fires in Utah. He called for more logging to thin out forests as well as a high-tech monitoring system "to spot fires before they grow to uncontrollable scale."
"Whether by satellite, drone, or sensor, every square mile of high-risk territory should be monitored," he wrote.
Romney's campaign declined to comment further.
"Based on the comments that Romney made several weeks ago, I don't have any sense that he has an understanding of the complexity of these issues in the west," Wilson said.
She accused Romney of sidestepping climate change, which she believes increasingly contributes to large wildfires.
"If you look at forest impacts by climate change, we're more and more susceptible to forest fires," she said. "I think it's irresponsible to not step up and call for policies that address that primary issue.