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US plans to spend $50B on wildfire fighting where forests meet suburbia

US plans to spend $50B on wildfire fighting where forests meet suburbia

Biden’s administration plans to intensify efforts to stop wildfires that have devastated areas of the US West. This will include more aggressively thinning forests in areas known as “hotspots,” where nature and neighborhoods collide.

Administration officials announced that they have created a plan worth USD 50 billion to increase the use of controlled fires, logging and other methods to reduce the amount of vegetation that is tinder in the most vulnerable areas as climate change continues to heat up and dry out the West.

They said work will begin this year and the plan will focus on regions where out-of-control blazes have wiped out neighbourhoods and sometimes entire communities — including California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, the east side of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and portions of Arizona, Oregon and Washington state. Even though the conditions that fuel blazes are getting worse, homes continue being built in fire-prone areas.

“You will have forest fires. Agriculture Sec. asked, “How catastrophic are those fires?” Tom Vilsack spoke to the Associated Press ahead of a public announcement by the administration about its wildfire strategy at a Phoenix event on Tuesday.

Vilsack stated, “The time is now to act if we want ultimately to change the trajectory of fires.”

Specific projects weren’t immediately released, and it’s not clear who would pay for the full scope of work envisioned across almost 80,000 square miles (200,000 square kilometers) — an area almost as large as Idaho. A large portion of this area is owned or controlled privately by states or tribes. Kate Waters, spokesperson at Vilsack, stated that to reach this goal, it would take $20 billion over 10 year for work on national forests, and $30 billion on work on other federal and state lands.

Vilsack acknowledged the need for a “paradigm change” within the U.S. Forest Service. This agency, which was primarily focused on fighting fires, will now use what some Native Americans call “goodfire” on forests and rangeland in order to prevent larger fires.

The Forest Service plans indicate that the work will be centered on “hotspots” which only make up 10% of the fire-prone areas in the U.S., but are responsible for 80% of the risk to communities due their population densities or locations. The recently-passed federal infrastructure bill put a down payment on the initiative — $3.2 billion over five years that Vilsack said will get work going quickly.

John Abatzoglou, a wildfire expert, said that reducing fire dangers on the land envisioned by the administration’s plan was a “lofty objective” that would result in more acreage than has been burned in the West over the past 10 year. Abatzoglou is an engineering professor at the University of California Merced and believes that wildfire hazards are most relevant to communities.

He said, “Our scorecard on fire should be about lives saved and not acres that didn’t go up”

As wildfires become more intensely destructive and dangerous, the need to address them is growing. Infernos in Montana, Colorado and elsewhere have caused rare winter blazes in the past weeks. A wildfire that erupted on December 30 in a suburban area destroyed over 1,000 buildings and left one person dead. There are no signs of an improvement in the conditions that make wildfire risk extremely high. The region is experiencing a long-term megadrought. Scientists predict that temperatures will continue rising as more climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions are added to the atmosphere. The impact stretches far beyond the western U.S. because massive smoke plumes at the height of wildfire season in the U.S. and Canada spread the health effects across North America — sending unhealthy pollution last summer to major cities from San Francisco to Philadelphia and Toronto.

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For decades, the primary method of containing and extinguishing forests fires was to do away with them. The effort was similar to massive military-like campaigns. These included large fleets of heavy equipment, planes, and thousands of support workers and firefighting personnel dispatched to the fires. However, fires are a part of the natural cycle for most forests, so putting them out leaves stands of trees that don’t burn surrounded by dead wood, underbrush and other highly flammable fuels — a worst-case scenario when blazes ignite.

Critics claim that the U.S. agencies are too focused on fighting fires, and that cutting more trees to solve the problem will only cause harm to the forests. According to government biologists, the Black Hills in South Dakota has seen too many trees die from a combination fire, insects, and logging, making current timber harvest levels unsustainable.

Vilsack stated that a combination tree thinning and setting fires to clear the undergrowth, which are known as prescribed burns, will make the forests more healthy over the long-term. This will also reduce the risk to public safety. Forests near Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe, the tourism gateway community, were responsible for slowing down the progress of the Caldor Fire last year that claimed nearly 800 homes and forced evacuations of tens to thousands of tourists and residents. Similar results were seen in Oregon’s Bootleg fire, which burned more 600 square miles (1 500 km) of forest but caused less damage in forests that had been thinned over a decade.

Vilsack stated, “We know that this works.” Vilsack stated, “It’s removing some timber in a very scientific, thoughtful way so that fires don’t continue to hop between tree tops to tree tops but eventually come down to ground where they can be put out.”

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff. It is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.

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