HomeOutdoorsNewsU.S. Puts Nearly $500 Million Toward West Coast Wildfire Prevention

U.S. Puts Nearly $500 Million Toward West Coast Wildfire Prevention

by Brett Stayton
Firefighter Battles Blaze In Forest
Photo by Irfan Khan/Getty Images

Wildfires have been burning up the west coast with unprecedented frequency and intensity. Ongoing megadrought conditions have turned the major blazes from seasonal occurrences to year-round threats. NBC News now reports that the United States Government is now drastically ramping up efforts to protect vulnerable forests and at-risk communities from the devastating infernos.

Late last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made a huge announcement. Approximately $490 million of government funding from the Inflation Reduction Act have been earmarked for projects to reduce wildfire risks. The states where those projects will take place are Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. This is on top of the $440 million in fire mitigation funding that was part of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package passed by Congress.

The collective sum of funding is expected to help protect around 45 million acres. That according to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. That acreage is broken down into 134 areas where wildfires are considered to pose a serious risk to communities and infrastructure. The USDA has identified as many as 250 of those areas across the western U.S. “We expect and anticipate that around 200 communities in the western U.S. will see a mitigated wildfire risk as a result,” Vilsack said Wednesday.

Ongoing Megadrought Making West More Susceptible To Infernos

While wildfires used to only be a concern during the warmest and dryest months. However, with current drought conditions still ongoing throughout much of the western U.S., wildfires have become a year-round threat. Research also predicts that climate change is only likely to increase both the frequency and intensity of these infernos.

USDA Focusing On Potential Wildfire Areas Near Infrastructure

The bulk of the work funded by the almost $500 million will focus on 11 different landscapes. Those areas were selected because of their proximity to neighborhoods, buildings, and infrastructure. Areas that include underserved communities, public water sources, and tribal lands will also be a major focus.

“We also factored into this determination the most current predictive science and research that will allow us to determine where risks are highest,” said Secretary Vilsack. “It’s not a matter of whether or not a forest will burn. It’s just a matter of when and where.”

A variety of techniques will be used to make the land hardier and more capable of withstanding threats from wildfires. Those methods include prescribed burns and thinning dense and dead strands of trees. A major priority will also be removing the buildup of leaves and branches on the ground that often fuel fires. Reforestation efforts are also a part of the plan.

“We know from science, we know from models, we know from input from those who live, work and raise their families in communities around these forests who understand and know the forest, that there are critical areas that need to be worked on,” Vilsack said. “And by working on them, essentially you create a circumstance that should there be a fire, you minimize the risk of the fire getting to a point where it risks communities or critical infrastructure.”