U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of the Interior, and other agencies continue government-wide effort to protect communities from the threat of wildfires
Today, Vice President Harris, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and White House Senior Advisor and Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu announced $197 million in funding awards to make communities more resilient to wildfires and strengthen the federal, state and local response. The funding comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new Community Wildfire Defense Grant program – a $1 billion new initiative funded under the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and derived from legislation the Vice President authored in the Senate.
These funds will help over 100 at-risk communities in 22 states and seven Tribes develop and implement plans to protect themselves from wildfires. Activities funded include developing or updating a community’s Wildfire Protection Plan or implementing projects outlined in a community’s existing plan – such as removing overgrown weeds or dead vegetation from around homes, properly marking evacuation routes in preparation for smoky conditions, identifying invasive species that create fire risk like invasive bamboo, or clearing brush from around power poles.
As the President noted in the State of the Union last month, the changing climate has caused an increase in the number of wildfires that burn across the American West each year – often devastating disadvantaged communities in high-risk areas. In 2022, nearly 70,000 fires burned over 7.5 million acres. In response, the Biden-Harris Administration has directed the federal investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act to target the communities at greatest risk. 86 of the 100 grants announced for communities today are also going to areas considered underserved – in-line with the Administration’s commitment to Justice40.
This announcement follows the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) release of $50 million in new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding on March 17th for wildfire management and hazardous fuels treatments this year, which will help limit the severity of wildfires in at-risk areas. This funding will advance collaborative wildfire risk management efforts with private landowners, Tribes, states and local governments, help communities acquire slip-on tank units, support special pay supplements for federal wildland firefighters, and expand remote sensing for wildfire detection. These investments build on the $228 million in fiscal year 2023 funding allocated in December by the Department and $180 million allocated in fiscal year 2022.
These combined announcements from the DOI and USDA – in addition to the Administration’s efforts to identify priority landscapes for hazardous fuels removal, raise wildland firefighter pay, invest in new technologies through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to better detect and stop wildfires, and strengthen our federal, state, and local capacity to respond to wildfires and remove hazardous materials – are making the communities safer in advance of this fire season. Last year DOI and USDA coordinated to treat over 3.5 million acres in high-risk areas – in line with a 5- and 10-year national strategy – to limit the threat of wildfires to communities. With help from state, local, and Tribal partners, they are on-pace to do even more this year.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act included over $7 billion in funding for the USDA, DOI, and NOAA to enhance our ability to mitigate and respond to wildfires.
Wildland Fire Resilience & Response a Priority in the President’s Budget
The Biden-Harris Administration remains intensely focused on limiting the damage wildfires have on communities this fire season – and will use all available resources to protect homes, our economy, and the environment from climate-induced natural hazards. As part of the President’s 2024 budget request, he called on Congress to:
- Permanently increase pay for wildland firefighters – initially supplemented for 2 years through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – and provide them with the health – including mental health – resources that they need to do dangerous jobs. These first responders save lives, protect communities, and serve on the frontlines of our nation’s wildfire crisis;
- Provide housing for wildland fire personnel, who often struggle to find affordable housing options in hard to reach locations where they fight fires to protect communities;
- Increase funding for hazardous fuels treatment at the U.S. Forest Service by 28% above 2023 enacted levels; and,
- Increase the Department of the Interior’s wildland fire and hazardous fuels management funding 21% above 2023 enacted levels.
Learn More About the Administration’s Approach to Wildfire Resilience
To learn more about the Federal government’s plan to respond to the increasing threat of wildfires, see the Department of Agriculture’s 10 Year Strategy to Confront the Wildfire Crisis – made possible through the fund provided in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also created the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission and charged it with making recommendations to improve federal policies related to the mitigation, suppression, and management of wildland fires in the United States, as well as the rehabilitation of lands devastated by wildland fire. Learn more about their work and the U.S. Fire Administration here.