Sounding The Alarm: Reducing wildfire risks while supporting rural communities

After a record western fire season, USDA’s Forest Service is looking to spend a significant amount of money to reduce the risk.

We learned details about how your tax dollars will be spent at a budget hearing.

The administration’s 2022 budget request includes $1.7 billion dollars for wildfire hazardous fuel reduction and forest resiliency projects, an increase of $476 million dollars over the previous budget.

Forest Service Chief, Victoria Christiansen says that it is a good investment to reduce risk.

According to Christiansen, “That’s a pretty good investment-- when we can show that we can get results if we treat 40 percent of these highest, at-risk fire sheds.”

Agency scientists used a ten-year model to come up with that figure, and Christiansen says that it would require double the number of acres they currently treat with prescribed burns.

“We need to strategically treat an additional 20 million acres of national forest system lands in the west and 650,000 acres in the east, just on the national forests alone to make significant progress in reducing risks,” she explains.

In addition to reducing wildfire risks, she says it would also support rural communities: “It would create, we estimate, between 300,000 to 575,000 jobs, and of course, protect significant communities, and small businesses, and enhance local economies.”

Investing in mapping, data analytics, and new technology is also critical for a modern wildfire prevention system.

“We have also made good progress in standing up our unmanned aircraft systems program with the purchase of our first 20 UAS’s in the fleet, and we flew... over 1,000 UAS missions for fire intelligence, post-fire recovery, and other natural resource missions,” she adds.

She told the committee that the agency is on track to meet the 2021 goal of prescribed burns on 3.5 million acres to reduce fuel loads that can contribute to wildfires.


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