Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack rcently launched a new $1 billion Community Wildfire Defense Grant program. This new, five-year, competitive program funded by President Biden’s historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is designed to assist at-risk communities, including Tribal communities, non-profit organizations, state forestry agencies and Alaska Native corporations with planning for and mitigating wildfire risks.
The program launch comes at an important time as shifting development patterns, land and fire management decisions, and climate change have turned fire “seasons” into fire “years” with increasingly destructive fires. Applications will be available in the coming days.
Vilsack made the announcement during his keynote address at the Western Governors’ Association’s 2022 annual meeting where discussions focused on wildfire threats, restoring burned landscapes and the effects of drought in the West.
“These investments are crucial to tackling the wildfire crisis, climate change and public safety,” said Vilsack. “President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is giving us new resources and tools to invest in communities in the areas where they live and the forests they value.”
Individual grants will fund up to $250,000 to create and update community wildfire protection plans or conduct outreach and education, and up to $10 million for associated infrastructure and resilience projects. Local and Tribal governments are encouraged to conduct planning exercises to assist their communities with wildfire preparedness, response and adaptation efforts. Projects must be completed within five years of the award obligation. The number of projects selected will be determined by available funding, which is $200 million annually.
The Community Wildfire Defense Grant program is based on legislation initially introduced by Vice President Harris in the Senate. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included language to ensure the program prioritizes communities that have a high or very high wildfire hazard potential, are low income, or have been impacted by a severe disaster.
The new program will also help communities in the wildland urban interface meet the three goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy to maintain resilient landscapes, create fire-adapted communities and improve wildfire response.
“Insight and guidance from the communities most at risk for catastrophic wildfires helps us mitigate those risks more effectively,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “We need a collaborative effort at all levels to ensure the success of this critical national effort.”
Addressing wildfire is a whole-of government approach, and through the White House Wildfire Interagency Working Group, agencies are working together to align and promote funding opportunities and resources. In addition, earlier this month, USDA, the Department of the Interior, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, announced appointments for a new Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission, created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will assemble policy recommendations on how the agencies can better mitigate, prevent, and respond to wildfire risk. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also provides an historic $8.25 billion investment for wildfire management, through a suite of programs aimed at reducing wildfire risks, detecting wildfires, instituting firefighter workforce reforms and landmark pay increases for federal wildland firefighters.
More information and applications are available at the Community Wildfire Defense Grants webpage.