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Biden administration announces plan to spend billions of dollars to prevent wildfires

After a year that included one of the largest wildfires in California history and ended with a unreasonably late fire In what has become the deadliest devastation ever seen in Colorado, the Biden administration on Tuesday announced a 10-year, multi-billion dollar plan to reduce fire risk on up to 50 million acres. vulnerable communities at the border.

The federal Department of Agriculture said in a statement that they will take steps to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires in dozens of spots in 11 Western states by thinning overgrown trees and using controlled burning practices to remove dead vegetation. Plan, details in a reportwould quadruple the government’s land-handling efforts.

“It is time to act,” said Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, at a news summary on Tuesday, adding that the government needs to “change the trajectory of our wildfires.”

The goal, he said, is to make the forest more resilient and “adapted to fire”.

Over the past decade, the number of fires per year in the West has remained fairly stable. What has changed is their size.

The 2021 fire season includes some extreme fires. The Bootleg fire, the fire of more than 400,000 acres in Oregon, was one of the largest fires in the history of the state. In Northern California, fire Dixie burned through nearly a million acres to become the second largest in state history.

In addition to California and Oregon, the agency plans to implement land-based containment measures in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, and Washington.

Record drought and heat, exacerbated by global warming, have made forests extremely dry and therefore more combustible. But Many researchers say that there is a contributing factor: more than a century of forest management policy has called for all fires – no matter how small – to be extinguished. That causes a build-up of dead vegetation, which adds fuel to more fires.

That’s why The Biden board has decided purposeful thinning and burning to restore the forest to its former near-forest condition, when fire was a regular part of the forest’s life cycle and naturally removed some dead trees and shrubs.

This plan is an expensive one, but it is only partially funded. A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said the department would spend $655 million a year on forest management for the first five years of the plan. That money will be in addition to the $262 million that the US Forest Service has allocated for the mission this year.

New money will come from 1 trillion dollars infrastructure bill The ministry said it was signed into law in November.

To implement the plan on 50 million acres will cost about 50 billion USD. The government spent about $1.9 billion a year on extinguishing wildfires between 2016 and 2020.

Michael Wara, director of the energy and climate policy program at Stanford University, said he was worried the agency was facing “an enormous challenge” that it didn’t have the funds to complete.

“I’m really worried that the Forest Service is over-committing itself,” he said on Tuesday.

But if the plan is successful, the fire season could be much less catastrophic, Dr Wara said.

Mr. Vilsack said the Forest Service would work as quickly as possible during vulnerable periods, especially the fire season which is now a year-round threat with fires burning in winter. In December, Marshall’s fire swept through communities around Boulder, Colo., becoming one of the deadliest fires in state history.

After the agency, working in tandem with private landowners and Native American tribes, has implemented containment measures in the most at-risk areas, it will move to areas that are at risk, he said. other vulnerable areas.

He added that the Department of Agriculture had not paid attention to underserved communities in the past but would make sure they were included this time.

Under the previous administration, former President Donald J. Trump dismissed a link between wildfires and climate change. In the summer of 2020, Mr. Trump blamed California for the fire problem and initially rejected state federal disaster aid.

“You have to mop your floors; you have to clean up your forest,” Mr. Trump said at that time, in the comments highlighting only one aspect of a complex issue. He added that “there’s a lot of broken leaves and the tree is many years old” so it’s “very flammable.”

Experts say that while Mr. Trump is wrong to dismiss climate change’s role in exacerbating the fires, he is right that more aggressive forest management is needed to tackle the fires. that fire.

Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, a Democrat who spoke at the news conference with Vilsack, said it was time to focus more on wildfire prevention strategies.

“We can’t keep doing the same thing under worse conditions and expect a better outcome,” he said.

Mr Vilsack said that while the plan would not prevent fires from happening, it would make them less catastrophic. He also pledged that the Forest Service would keep the public informed of its progress throughout the decade.

After 10 years of proposed efforts, the Agriculture Department said, it would create a plan to maintain lands that have taken the precautions, which experts say will require regular maintenance.

Henry Fountain contribution report.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/19/climate/biden-administration-wildfire-plan.html Biden administration announces plan to spend billions of dollars to prevent wildfires

Fry Electronics Team

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