The Biden administration said Tuesday it would expand efforts to contain the devastating wildfires that have inundated areas of the US West by more aggressively thinning forests around “hot spots” where nature and neighborhoods collide.
As climate change warms and the West becomes drier, administration officials said they have drawn up a $50 billion plan to double the use of controlled fires and reduce trees and other vegetation that are most at risk. Acts as Tinder in areas with So far only a few works have been funded.
The projects will begin this year, and the plan will focus on areas where out-of-control blazes have wiped out neighborhoods and sometimes entire communities — including California’s Sierra Nevada, the east side of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and Arizona, Oregon. parts are included. and Washington State.
Homes continue to be built in fire-prone areas, even as the fire situation gets worse.
“You’re going to have wildfires. The question is how devastating those fires have to be,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Associated Press in an interview. “The time to act is now if we are to eventually change the trajectory of these fires over time.”
Specific projects were not immediately released, and it is unclear who will pay for the full scope of the work, envisaged at about 200,000 square kilometers (80,000 sq mi) – an area almost as large as the state of Idaho. Most of that area is controlled by states, tribes or is privately owned.
Vilsack spokeswoman Kate Waters said reaching that goal would require an estimated $20 billion over 10 years to work on national forests and $30 billion to work on other federal, state, tribal and private lands.
Vilsack acknowledged that the new effort would also require a “paradigm shift” within the US Forest Service, from an agency dedicated to stamping fires to what some Native Americans called “good fires” on forests and rangelands. To use ” to prevent even bigger. burns.
Forest Service planning documents indicate that work will focus on “hotspots” that make up only 10% of fire-prone areas across the US, but have an 80% risk to communities due to their population density and locations.
The recently passed federal infrastructure bill put a down payment on the initiative — about $3 billion over five years, which Vilsack said would get the job done quickly.
Wildfire expert John Abtzoglu said reducing fire hazards on the amount of land envisaged under the administration’s plan is a “moderate goal” that represents more than the area burned in the past 10 years across the West . But University of California Merced engineering professor Abtzoglu said it makes sense to focus on the wildfire hazards closest to the communities.
“Our scorecard for the fire should be about the lives saved rather than an acre,” he said.
Vilsack joined Forest Service Chief Randy Moore to announce the plan during an event in Phoenix, where he defended its scope as realistic.
“We know exactly from a scientific standpoint where to take this action in many of these forests, to protect people, to protect communities,” Vilsack said after the announcement at the Desert Botanical Garden, a site for the cactus. Popular showcases, desert trees and other dry season plants.
Dealing with western wildfires is becoming increasingly important as they become more destructive and intense. Rare winter fires have occurred in recent weeks, including inferno in Montana and Colorado, where on December 30 wildfires spread to a suburban area and destroyed more than 1,000 buildings, killing one person. And the other one is still missing.
And there’s no shortage of conditions that put wildfire risks very high. A long-term “megadrought” is gripping the region, and scientists predict that temperatures will continue to rise as more climate-changing carbon emissions are pumped into the atmosphere.
The effect extends far beyond the western U.S. as massive smoke plumes at the height of wildfire season in the U.S. and Canada have spread health effects across North America — major from San Francisco to Philadelphia and Toronto last summer. Sending unhealthy pollution to cities.
For decades the primary way to try and extinguish wildfires was to try to stamp them out. The efforts have been similar to large-scale, military-like operations, involving fleets of aircraft, heavy equipment, and thousands of firefighters and aid workers sent to fire areas.
However, fires are a part of the natural cycle for most forests, so putting them out is tree stands that are not surrounded by dead wood, underbrush and other highly flammable fuels – the worst case scenario when blazes ignite.
Critics say the government’s plan to use logging to reduce fire damage would harm both the forests and wildlife and the water supplies that depend on them. For example, in South Dakota’s Black Hills, government biologists have said that many of the trees that died from a combination of insects, fire and logging have made current levels of timber harvest unsustainable.
“The US Forest Service simply can’t get out of the climate crisis,” said Adam Rissian of the environmental group WildEarth Guardians.
But Vilsack said that a combination of tree thinning and intentional fires to clear underground fires called scheduled burns could make forests healthier in the long run while reducing the risk to public safety. Will give
The forests near Lake Tahoe and the tourism gateway community of South Lake Tahoe have been credited with slowing the progress of the massive Caldor fire last summer, which destroyed nearly 800 homes and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents and tourists. inspired.
A similar incident occurred last July during Oregon’s bootleg fire, which burned more than 1,500 square kilometers (600 sq mi) but caused little damage to the forest over the past decade.
“We know it works,” Vilsack said. “It’s removing some of the wood in a very scientific and thoughtful way, so that at the end of the day the fire doesn’t just go from treetop to treetop, but eventually comes to the ground where we can put them out.”