From Washington, Big Investments in Wildfire Mitigation on the Horizon
Last week, President Biden visited the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho and then continued to California to see first-hand the devastation wrought by the 200,000-acre Caldor fire. Talking to press from a Cal Fire hangar, he touted the concrete actions taken by his Administration to tackle the 2021 wildfire crisis—raising wages for federal firefighters to the federal minimum, securing aircraft to fight fires from the sky, and using the Defense Production Act to clear manufacturing bottlenecks for hoses to fight fires on the ground. With millions of acres burned so far—and beloved landmarks like the General Sherman now in danger—these actions must be taken to protect lives and communities. However, in terms of mitigating the impact of these fires, there’s nothing yet the President can pull from the oven. But things are cooking. On Capitol Hill, Congress is considering two measures that would make substantial investments in wildfire mitigation. Earlier in the summer, the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that contains $1.5 billion for hazardous fuel treatments and a new $500 million program to help communities update and implement Community Wildfire Protection Plans. And now, the House is negotiating the budget reconciliation process—the other part of Biden’s Build Back Better Plan. As part of that 10-year, multi-trillion package, the House Committees on Agriculture and Natural Resources have included over $15 billion for hazardous fuel treatments, hundreds of millions to State, Tribal, and local firefighters to help them with equipment and training to tackle wildfires, and billions to help communities create fuel projects, do treatments on private lands, and clear defensible space around structures. These are all investments that will reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires and blunt their impacts on communities. In July, then U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen, testifying before a Senate Committee, called for a “paradigm shift” in the country’s investment in land management for wildfire mitigation—a doubling to a quadrupling of current forest fuel treatments. After decades of neglect, forests full of burnable material, and now a more arid climate, the billions now under consideration in Congress answer that call. However, if the U.S. is truly going to get ahead of this problem, we need true paradigm shifts in all areas of Outthink Wildfire™, including retrofitting homes in the wildland urban interface (WUI), following the latest codes and best land use practices, and educating residents on steps they need to take to reduce their own risk. Every leader, from the President down to governors, county managers, and mayors, should echo these calls to action. Learn more about the five key tenets of Outthink Wildfire at nfpa.org/wildfirepolicy.