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USDA

Some ecologists are calling for allowing more forest fires to burn because they are "essential to improving the long-term health of the forests," according to the New York Times.

Why it matters: The U.S. Forest Service reports more than 73,000 wildfires burn about 7 million acres of federal, tribal, state, and private land each year. Historically, however, scientists believe that 20 to 30 million acres burned each year in what is now the U.S. prior to colonization. Many kinds of plants and animals thrive in newly-burned forests, and by rushing to put them out, they could be endangered.

However, forest fires threaten nearby communities. Ecologists and forest managers are seeking a balance between fears about public safety and the ecological benefits of wildfires.

The costs: The NYT reports that federal and state firefighting costs have neared two billion dollars. The National Interagency Fire Center reports there were 15 firefighter fatalities in 2016 due to forest fires. Some scientists suggest money should be "redirected from firefighting into projects like fireproofing homes."

Go deeper

Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbers

Expand chart
Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Two new Biden administration initiatives — mailing at-home COVID-19 tests to those who ask and making free N-95 masks available — are hugely popular, each backed by 84% of Americans in the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Yes, but: Those who may need these most — the unvaccinated — are less likely to take advantage of the offerings, the survey found. And neither has boosted President Biden's numbers so far, meaning it's too little too late, or too soon to see a change.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

Alabama's new congressional map rejected by federal judges

The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Federal judges on Monday night blocked Alabama's newly drawn congressional map and ordered the Republican-led State Legislature to create a new one that includes two districts, rather than the planned one.

Why it matters: "Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress," the panel of three judges wrote in their ruling.