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New federal wildfire plan is ambitious – but the Forest Service needs more money and people to fight the growing risks
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New federal wildfire plan is ambitious – but the Forest Service needs more money and people to fight the growing risks

A forest with space among the trees.


Wildfires have been a concern for people living in the west U.S.A. for a while. The past two yearsMany are now fearful and unsure if there are any solutions to the fire crisis.

The Dixie FireIn the Sierra Nevada, nearly 1,000,000 acres were burned in 2021. This included almost the entire community Greenville, California. Then strong winds at Lake Tahoe sent Caldor Fire racing toward homes, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people – including one of us. They followed the destructive wildfires of 2020. CaliforniaColorado and OregonAlso, the past two-years saw many devastating fires.

Foresters have been working on this for many years. Wildfire and forest restorationSierra Nevada fires for more than a quarter of century. Our main learning from these fires is that forest restoration projects and fuel reduction are our best tools. Wildfire mitigation in a changing climateThere are many, but not enough.

The U.S. Forest Service announced a new 10-year plan for the forest in early 2022. It aims to change this. It sets out an ambitious goal. strategyBut Congress will have to ensure that enough funds are available to fund its implementation.

Projects to reduce fuel consumption can be successful

The DixieAnd CaldorFires proved that Projects to reduce forest fuels can be successful.

Both fires spread rapidly over large areas, but they burned less severely in areas that have fuels management and proactive forest restoration projects. Near South Lake TahoeAnd Near Quincy.

These projects are part of the Fuels Reduction Initiative Thinning out trees, burning off woody debris and reducing “ladder fuels” like small trees and brush that can allow fire to reach the tree canopy. Forest restorationProjects focus on forest structure, density, and composition as well reducing fuels.

A forest with space among the trees.
Thinned areas like this one in California’s Genesee Valley were more resistant to 2021’s Dixie Fire.
Ryan Tompkins, CC BY -ND

These projects create more open forest that is less likely to fuel megafires. They also create Strategic areas where firefighters can fight more easily future blazes. Because fires burn more intensely in thin forests, these projects leave more intact wood after a fire. regenerating new treesSequestering carbon.

A new 10-year plan

The Forest Service’s new 10-year planThe goal is to treat 50 million more acres in the West over 10 year, or just under 80,000 square mile. The Forest Service treats approximately the same area. Around 2 million to 3,000,000 acresA year ago.

The plan’s top priorities are high-risk communities that have been endangered by out-of control fires. This includes the Sierra Nevada in California and parts of Colorado’s Rockies east.

The Forest Service already has a “shared stewardship” agreementCalifornia reached an agreement in 2020 to treat 1,000,000 acres annually by 2030. Research indicates that current treatment levels are not adequate. Closer to 30%of the million-acre goal. Remember that 1,000,000 acres is the extent of the Dixie Fire.

One question that remains is how the 10-year plan would be paid for, given the fact that it will require a workforce greater than the U.S. has seen in decades.

A few walls are standing, but most of the town is burned and melted rubble.
After the Dixie Fire, little of downtown Greenville was left.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

So far, Congress approved Additional fundingThrough the 2021 infrastructure bill which included $655 million per year for fire management over five years. That’s in addition to the Forest Service’s annual funding for this work, which was about $260 million this fiscal year.

California’s scientists, land managers, and former government leaders recommend spending $5 billion annually on proactive management. Similar roughlyTo what extent was spent to suppress fires within the state in 2020. Known as “The Venado Declaration,” this proposal, championed by Former Gov. Jerry Brown and Ken Pimlott, former Cal Fire DirectorThe, calls for the improvement of forest resilience on every acre. It also acknowledges that funding is not enough. It also discusses the need to build infrastructure, a workforce, and reevaluate regulatory barriers.

Four steps to get started

Experts believe that in order to manage fires in an era where climate change is a reality, when hotter and drier conditions create the ideal conditions for burning, the area of fuels reduction must increase by at most an inch Order of magnitude. These are the four things that government must do to succeed.

1) Drastically increase funding and staff for agencies’ fuels reduction projects, as well as outreach, cost-sharing and technical assistance for private forestland owners. The new plan is a positive start. A funding increase in federal and state agency posts would allow for greater forest restoration capacity over the long term. The Biden administration’s proposal for a Civilian Climate CorpsThis could also help to bring in more young workers.

The Dixie Fire saw firefighters use an area that had been strategically trimmed to set backfires to keep the wildfire from reaching Quincy.
Ryan Tompkins, CC BY -ND

2) Reduce regulations on forest management and fuels management for public and private land. While CaliforniaThe federal governmentLand management agencies have made significant strides in streamlining regulations. However, they must recognize that the greatest risk is not doing anything. Agencies must plan for larger restoration projects and significantly reduce the time required to implement them.

3) Invest in communities’ capacity to carry out local forest restoration work by providing long-term support to local organizations that provide outreach, technical assistance and project coordination services. The development of long-term community capacities is difficult because restoration funding through competitive grants can be costly. The new plan’s inclusion of state, tribal and private lands is an opportunity for partnerships.

4) Provide financial incentives and funds for at-risk communities Homes can be retrofitted to withstand wildfiresReduce fuel consumption around homes, communities, and infrastructure.

We will need to learn to live with wildfires in the West, even as we face a changing climate. This will require concerted actions and a cultural shift in our perceptions and management of forests and communities to make them resilient.

This is an updated edition of an article published on October 13, 2021.


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