Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland visited the National Interagency Fire Center Friday to announce federal funding of $103 million for wildfires risk reduction efforts.
This funding, which is allocated in reduction efforts across the country, stems from President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. About 80% of funding goes towards accelerating fuels management — over 2 million acres are set to get treatment this year, which is a 30% increase from last year.
This coincides with a lengthening wildfire season that’s becoming more intense and dangerous.
"Through persistent initial attack efforts, wildland firefighters have responded to over 30,000 wildfires today this year alone," Department’s Office of Wildland Fire Director Jeff Rupert said. "Just yesterday, firefighters responded to more than 100 fires across the country."
These are the facts and figures Haaland said she was briefed on prior to the announcement.
“Earlier this morning I met with the fire directors from our land management agencies and received briefings on the outlook for ongoing and prospective fires. One thing is profoundly clear that climate change will continue to make fires in the West larger, and that we must continue to invest in conservation of our ecosystems," Halland said at a press conference. "Nature is our greatest ally in the fight against climate change."
Closer to home, this means the state of Idaho BLM is putting in networks of “fuel breaks," an effort to protect large swaths of rangeland and grassland that’s already vulnerable to fire and invasive species.
"We work with fire years now. It's no longer a fire season. That means that we have to do the hard work of reducing fire risk and recovering after fires at the same time that we're responding to fires," Rupert said.
The impact of climate change was a common thread at the announcement, especially as wildfires rage in the secretary's home state.
“We've always had fires. There have been lots of fires in New Mexico it seems like every year, but certainly climate change is making it so that, it almost feels like it's going to get worse before it before it seemingly gets any better," Haaland said.
The announcement also included information about the establishment of an interagency wildland firefighter health and wellbeing program. The program will address needs such as post-traumatic stress disorder care for wildland firefighters and address environmental hazards to minimize on-the-job exposure.
"It's 'fire years' no longer 'fire seasons.' Hotter, drier conditions cause more extreme fire behavior, and the increased frequency of fires in urban areas impacts more homes, businesses and communities each and every year," Halaand said.