Biden-Harris Administration announces $500 million to confront the wildfire crisis as part of investing in America agenda

 Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the Biden-Harris Administration is investing nearly $500 million from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to expand work on the USDA Forest Service’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy to reduce risk to communities, critical infrastructure and natural resources from the nation’s ongoing wildfire crisis, which is exacerbated by climate change.

These funds bring the total investment in this comprehensive strategy to an historic $2.4 billion thanks to President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The announcement also advances the Administration’s National Climate Resilience Framework to help expand and accelerate nationally comprehensive, locally tailored, and community-driven resilience strategies.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

“As climate change exacerbates the challenges our communities, forests and infrastructure face from catastrophic wildfires, our answer to those challenges have to match the scale of the threat,” said Vilsack. “We have already made progress, but there is still much to be done. This additional investment, thanks to President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, will help deliver the tools and resources our employees, partners and communities need to protect lives and livelihoods across a vast, shared landscape.”

Approximately $400 million of the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds will be allocated to ongoing efforts on the 21 designated priority landscapesidentified in the strategy, making the total investment to date $1.6 billion. An additional $100 million will be allocated under a new program established by the Forest Service – the Collaborative Wildfire Risk Reduction Program – to expand work outside these landscapes. Inspired by past example and success of programs such as the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, the new program expands work in high-risk wildfire areas outside the 21 priority landscapes.

The Collaborative Wildfire Risk Reduction Program will use hazardous fuels funds from the Inflation Reduction Act to treat areas outside the 21 priority landscapes in high-risk wildfire areas where national forests and grasslands meet homes and communities, known as the Wildland-Urban Interface. The program allows national forests, in collaboration with Tribes, communities and partners in 24 qualifying states, to build local capacity for projects to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health to protect communities, infrastructure, water quality and adjacent landowners.

2023 Identified Landscapes in our region of California
Plumas Community Protection (California – 285K acres)|
The Plumas Community Protection projects landscape focuses on community zones across the Plumas National Forest with very high, high, or moderate wildfire hazard potential. The landscape covers 284,912 acres in five high-risk firesheds. Critical infrastructure includes hydroelectric power plants, drinking water, electrical transmission corridors, State highways, railroads, telecommunications, school districts, and forest products industries. The Feather River provides electricity and fresh water to over 27 million people and 4–5 million acres of farmland. Since catastrophic wildfires have burned 65 percent of the forest in recent years, protecting communities and infrastructure from future wildfires is essential.

Southern California Fireshed Risk Reduction Strategy (California – 4M acres)
The immense values at risk in southern California and the collaborative solutions underway for vegetation management represent investment opportunities to avoid staggering social, economic, and ecological costs. Southern California’s national forests differ from many others across the Western United States. The dominant vegetation type, shrubland, has burned too frequently over the past century. Because of this, the southern California landscape does not need the same types of treatments and maintenance as forested landscapes. This area has the Nation’s highest concentration of high-risk firesheds and is home to 25 million people. There is a large wildland-urban interface throughout the landscape, as well as Tribal lands, watersheds that provide municipal drinking water, and utility infrastructure.

Trinity Forest Health and Fire Resilient Rural Communities (California – 910K acres)
The landscape centers on Trinity County and extends into neighboring Humboldt and Shasta Counties. Trinity County has the highest wildfire risk in California and the State’s second highest wildfire risk to homes; other communities within or adjacent to the landscape are also at high risk from wildfire. The landscape has 693,662 acres of National Forest System lands (76 percent of the total), with the remainder in a mix of private and public ownerships. Major roads include California State Routes 299, 36, and 3, which serve as thoroughfares in an area without interstate highways. Route 299 is the largest connection from the California interior to the Pacific Coast, with Route 36 as a primary alternate route. Route 3 is the main north-south travel corridor through Trinity and Siskiyou Counties, with no viable alternative in the landscape. Numerous county and forest roads also serve as critical ingress/egress routes for local communities.

Klamath River Basin (Oregon, California – 10M acres)|
The Forest Service manages about 55 percent of the 10-million-acre Klamath Basin. These lands generate 80 percent of the mean annual surface water supply to the Klamath River. The area provides important habitat for fish listed under the Endangered Species Act. Fish like steelhead, salmon, and suckers are vital to the culture and well-being of tribes in the Klamath Basin. Following the planned removal of four dams on the Klamath River, Forest Service lands will provide habitat for fish that have been excluded from the upper basin. For several decades, Federal, State, and other partners have warned that the Klamath Basin is in critical need of restoration. Catastrophic wildfires have damaged or degraded ecosystems and communities across five national forests in the Klamath Basin, a trend that is likely to continue as the climate becomes hotter and drier. The effects of a changing climate on hydrology and wildfire activity are degrading fish habitat, including contributing to habitat loss through postfire landslides. Many affected communities are in rural counties with some of the lowest median incomes in their respective states.

Sierra and Elko Fronts (Nevada, California – 3.4M acres)
This Intermountain Region (Region 4) project includes work in California. The project totals 3.4 million acres and encompasses landscapes in two states. These two projects together demonstrate the comprehensive landscape treatment goal of the Wildfire Crisis Strategy.

A list of the qualifying states and criteria for eligible areas and projects can be found on the program webpage.

This announcement is part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to increase the resilience of lands facing the threat of catastrophic wildland fires and to better support federal wildland firefighters. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included $1.4 billion for the USDA Forest Service in wildfire risk reduction funds. The Inflation Reduction Act provided an additional $1.8 billion to reduce the risk of wildfire to neighborhoods, infrastructure, watersheds, and the many other benefits forests provide. All these investments will help strengthen long-term fire preparedness, reduce catastrophic wildland fire risk across states, and invest in supporting the wildland firefighter workforce.

In January 2022, the Forest Service launched the Wildfire Crisis Strategy with the goal of safeguarding communities and the resources they depend on by increasing hazardous fuels treatments to reduce wildfire risk. This work includes the treatment of more than a million acres across the 21 priority landscapes that is beginning to reduce wildfire risk for some 550 communities, 2,500 miles of power lines, and 1,800 watersheds that supply drinking water to millions of Americans.

These landscapes and efforts to expand the work under the Wildfire Crisis Strategy are determined using scientific research and analysis, water source protection, risk to community infrastructure, at-risk species, wildlife corridors and equity. Investments in the Wildfire Crisis Strategy are also part of President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which aims to see 40 percent of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities.

Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Dr. Homer Wilkes.

“This important work is already in motion – we’ve seen the impact on reducing wildfire exposure to communities, as well as critical infrastructure, critical watersheds, socially vulnerable communities, and carbon stocks,” said USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Dr. Homer Wilkes.

Randy Moore, Chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service.

“We are pleased with the record-setting pace and scale accomplished by Forest Service employees, partners, tribes and communities,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “These investments will allow critical work to continue in the 21 priority landscape areas and begin intensively in other high-risk areas across the country that will be determined through new program.”

In 2023, the Forest Service and a wide-range of partners, communities, and Tribes accomplished more than 4.3 million acres of hazardous fuels reduction, including nearly two million acres of prescribed burning, on national forests and grasslands across the nation – both are record highs in the agency’s 119-year history and over a million acres more accomplished than the previous year.

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