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N.M. Delegation Announces New Resources for Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Recovery

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.), Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) and Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.) are welcoming two new actions taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in helping New Mexicans recover from the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire.

 This week, following months of advocacy from the delegation, FEMA and the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Claims Office announced a new partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Under this partnership, claimants will have the option to request a NRCS conservation and restoration plan, tailored to recovering from the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire and subsequent flooding, to include cost estimates that can be utilized by the Claims Office to process claims quickly and efficiently. This service will be provided at no cost to the claimant.

Additionally, the Congressional delegation is announcing over $265 million from USDA’s Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program to help with wildfire recovery efforts. This funding will fund 28 EWP projects in 16 states impacted by extreme weather events, including the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire in New Mexico.

“These are critical and necessary steps in the fight to ensure those impacted by the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire are made whole,” said Heinrich. “I’m especially glad to see USDA and FEMA heed our call to work together for New Mexicans. I will leave no stone unturned in making sure that New Mexico families and communities make a full recovery, and that we restore the health of the forests and watershed that these communities rely on.”

“This new partnership with FEMA and USDA makes clear that recovery is an ongoing process,” said Luján."This partnership is a big step in helping provide critical support to New Mexicans recovering from the Hermit's Peak/Calf Canyon fires. By helping file claims quickly and efficiently, our communities are one step closer to rebuilding their homes and businesses." 

“Our communities need every available resource to recover from the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire. The delegation successfully pushed USDA and FEMA to create this partnership to assist fire survivors,” said Leger Fernández. “The availability of custom conservation plans from NRCS will take one more burden off the shoulders of fire victims and help them restore their lands. At the same time, the additional funds from the Emergency Watershed Protection program will help rebuild our essential watersheds and acequias and protect our communities.”

“I am proud that our delegation secured $3.95 billion in federal funds for New Mexicans affected by the devastating Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire—it’s time to get this funding out the door to our communities,” said Stansbury. “I am pleased to see that FEMA and USDA are partnering to cut red tape and disburse relief more efficiently to New Mexicans. This initiative, in addition to news of the $265 million investment in New Mexico’s post-fire watershed restoration, will help us move forward with recovery efforts. We will not stop until New Mexicans receive the full measure of relief that they are owed by the federal government to rebuild, recover, and thrive.”

“During a House Agriculture Forestry Subcommittee hearing earlier this month, I asked the U.S. Forest Service Chief why only thirteen of the 140 eligible households had received any promised relief after the USFS started one of the most devastating fires through a prescribed burn in New Mexico,” said Vasquez. “After asking why there was such a clear disconnect between the USDA and FEMA, I am proud to see that there is now a partnership to ensure relief is delivered quickly to those who need it most.”

Earlier this month, Heinrich, Luján, and Leger Fernández sent a letter to DHS Secretary Mayorkas and FEMA Administrator Criswell expressing concern over the prolonged delay in finalizing the regulations for the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Claims Office. 

Heinrich, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Luján, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, secured funding in the Omnibus Appropriations Agreement for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) to support critical U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) emergency disaster programs. Heinrich also garnered additional support from U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shalanda Young, who included these programs in OMB’s disaster supplemental request.

In a bipartisan letter last year, Heinrich and Luján called on then Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy and Ranking Member Richard Shelby to prioritize supplemental funding for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program and the Emergency Forest Restoration Program at levels that meet USDA estimates. The New Mexico delegation successfully increased funding for these important programs.

While the fires were ongoing, the Congressional delegation secured 100 percent coverage of the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program. Senator Heinrich requested that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack take this action during a key Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on May 10. Senator Luján also requested that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack take this action during a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on May 26. Representative Leger Fernández also requested President Biden’s and Secretary Vilsack's commitment to cover 100% of the cost-share for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program in New Mexico.

Following the devastating Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire in April 2022, New Mexico’s Congressional Democrats secured $3.95 billion to help New Mexicans recover and rebuild. The funding established the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Claim’s Office at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).