Feds to send nearly $200 million to help communities prepare for wildfires

The Biden administration will channel $197 million from the bipartisan 2021 Infrastructure Act to help communities prepare for wildfires this summer, Vice President Kamala Harris and other administration officials said Monday.

The funding represents the first round of a new $1 billion community wildfire protection grant program authorized under the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in November 2021. Grants in the first year of the program will be available for more than 100 projects in 22 countries. according to the White House newsletter.

The funding is intended to help communities prepare for wildfires, which Harris says is preferable to responding to wildfires already wreaking havoc.

“The best time to put out a fire is before it starts,” she said on Monday during a telephone conversation with reporters.

The funding announced on Monday could be used to write or update wildfire preparedness plans or other mitigation measures, such as clearing flammable bushes.

Among the largest grants was a $9.9 million payment to the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District in eastern Oregon to clear hazardous fuel escape routes on county roads.

New Mexico-based Cimarron Watershed Alliance, a non-profit organization, also received $8 million to create defensible space around homes and fuel breaks designed to keep the fire from spreading.

Archuleta County, Colorado will also receive $1.1 million to remove hazardous fuel from more than 600 acres.

Harris also gave examples of $341,000 to Gila County, Arizona for evacuation planning and clearing flammable brush around buildings, and $1.4 million to North Carolina to help cities and counties develop better fire preparedness and response plans. .

Communities in Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, and Wisconsin will also receive grants.

The full list of grants announced on Monday is available here.

The remaining roughly $800 million will be released over the next four years, Harris said.

“This is an initial round of funding,” said Agriculture Minister Tom Vilsack. “That’s a critical down payment.”

The Forest Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, evaluated grant applications according to three criteria, Vilsack said: Communities that have experienced a major disaster are at high risk of wildfires and have low incomes. All of the grants announced on Monday met at least two of the three criteria, and most met all three, he said.

He said that the infrastructure law sets the criteria.

Climate change is to blame

Wildfires have become more destructive in recent decades for a variety of reasons, including hotter, drier weather due to climate change, and increased development in high fire risk areas.

Harris stressed that wildfires are a sign of climate change, which she says is only getting worse. According to her, the report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published on Monday should be a call to action.

“Our future is yet to be determined and solutions are at hand,” Harris said. “Let this be a wake-up call to let us know that we need to act as quickly as possible and we can really make a difference right now on how this all ends.”

Prescribed burns continue

The Forest Service plans to continue using prescribed burns to manage wildfire fuel, Vilsack said, despite the fact that such a burn led to massive New Mexico wildfires last year.

According to Vilsack, the Forest Service has conducted a comprehensive review of prescribed burns, where firefighters deliberately start and control small fires to clear bushes and other flammable materials so they don’t go out of control in a wildfire after the New Mexico fires.

The Forest Service will monitor local conditions more closely when assessing the need for controlled arson, but the technique remains “an important tool we have to make sure we can reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires,” he said.

This week, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore is due to testify before House and Senate spending subcommittees that are writing bills to fund the Department of the Interior. The President’s Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Request includes a 21% increase in Department of the Interior funding to fight wildfires.

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