Fixing the Wildfire Crisis in the West — $930 Million to Start

The Biden administration is spending $930 million in 10 states in the West to help reduce the number of fires experienced. The money will be used to clear trees and underbrush from forests managed by the federal government.

The point of the second year of the program — the administration says — is to prevent the kind of fires that have been devastating to communities in those 10 states.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the money is there but a big worry is finding workers to do the clearing and debris burning in 80,000 square miles of forest land. And then there’s the new Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

Vilsack worries Republicans will cut the program’s budget.

He noted in the past decade over 115,000 square miles of land has burned in the West. That’s an area larger than the state of Arizona. Those fires destroyed 80,000 homes, businesses and other structures and have killed hundreds of people.

“It’s not a matter of whether or not these forests will burn,” Vilsack said. “The crisis is upon us.”

The main targets this year are:

  • Much of Southern California where 25 million people live
  • The Klamath River Basin on the Oregon-California border
  • The San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona
  • The Wasatch area in Northern Utah

Other targets are in PIA Western Alliance states of Oregon, Washington, Montana, Nevada, Idaho and New Mexico, and in Colorado.

Vilsack said the focus will be hotspots that threaten about 80% of communities in the West.

Critics like Kimiko Barrett, an economist from Headwaters Economics, say this really isn’t enough. The problem, Barrett said, is a focus that is only on stopping fires.

“Given the scale of how much needs to be done, we are just skimming the surface,” Barrett said. “Risks are increasing at a scale and magnitude that we haven’t seen historically. You’re seeing entire neighborhoods devastated.”

Barrett contends the administration needs to send more money to communities and areas where populations are at risk so they can work on fire prevention and limit damage risks.

Vilsack disagrees and says the projects will help at least 200 communities in the western U.S. Some of that help will come via controlled burns. But they’re controversial, too, and the concept has its critics.

Andy Stahl of the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics is one of them. Last year a controlled burn got out of control in New Mexico and caused the largest, most devastating fire in state history.

“If you’re a community, you’re going to have to worry about not just nature’s fires, but the government’s fires, too,” he said. “New Mexico taught us that.”

Source link: Insurance Journal —

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