Jan 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden administration unveils plan to fight wildfires

Crews work among burned materials from the Dixie fire.
Crews work among burned materials from the Dixie fire in Northern California last year. Photo: Ty O'Neil/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Department of Agriculture on Tuesday unveiled a 10-year plan to combat the kind of catastrophic wildfires that have devastated parts of the West in recent years.

Driving the news: Climate change, as well as overgrown forests and an increasing number of homes in areas where nature and urban life meet, have led to a "full-blown wildfire and forest health crisis," the strategy document notes.

State of play: The plan will "significantly increase fuels and forest health treatments" that help combat wildfires and will target areas that pose the highest-risk for community exposure, the Agriculture Department said.

  • The $50 billion plan will double the use of controlled fires and logging to reduce the amount of trees and vegetation that frequently act as tinder in areas that are at high-risk for wildfires, AP reported.
  • High-risk areas include parts of the Pacific Northwest, California and Colorado, the department noted.
  • As part of the strategy, the Forest Service will treat up to an additional 20 million acres of National Forest System lands and up to an additional 30 million acres of other federal, state, Tribal, private and family lands.

What they're saying: “The negative impacts of today’s largest wildfires far outpace the scale of efforts to protect homes, communities and natural resources,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the press release.

  • “Our experts expect the trend will only worsen with the effects of a changing climate," he added.
  • “You’re going to have forest fires. The question is how catastrophic do those fires have to be,” Vilsack told AP.

The big picture: The U.S. has suffered from a spate of devastating wildfires in recent years.

  • The Boulder, Colorado-area wildfires last month were the state's most destructive wildfires on record, and were made worse due to the effects of climate change.
  • California's Dixie Fire in August was the 3rd largest in the state's history.
  • Six of the seven largest fires in California's history have occurred since August 2020, according to CalFire.

Our thought bubble, from Axios' Andrew Freedman: The administration's moves are aimed at reducing the likelihood of wildfires encroaching on the so-called wildland urban interface, or WUI.

  • People have pushed homes deeper into the WUI in recent years, and the recent wildfire disaster in the Denver suburbs illustrated how even areas not located right next to forests can be considered as part of the WUI, and therefore at risk of wildfires.
  • Climate change and decades of land management policies are causing wildfires to become larger in recent years, and to exhibit extreme behavior that makes them difficult for firefighters to control.
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