USDA Announces $250 Million Initiative to Combat Wildfires

WildfireImage by Classically Printed

YAKIMA, WA — Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Xochitl Torres Small recently announced a substantial $250 million investment aimed at helping communities protect against catastrophic wildfires. This initiative is part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda and is made possible by the bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The funds, allocated through the Community Wildfire Defense Grant program, will support 158 projects across 31 states, two territories, and 11 Tribes. These projects focus on developing community wildfire protection plans and removing overgrown vegetation that can fuel fires. The program, rooted in legislation introduced by Vice President Harris during her tenure in the Senate, aims to safeguard lives, businesses, and infrastructure from the increasing threat of wildfires exacerbated by climate change.

“The Biden-Harris administration is putting historic resources into efforts to confront the wildfire crisis, which is threatening people, communities, and resources across the nation,” said Deputy Agriculture Secretary Torres Small. “The Community Wildfire Defense Grants are just one of many ways we are helping communities adapt to larger, more complex, and more frequent wildfires.”

Last year alone, extreme weather and climate-fueled disasters, including wildfires, displaced over two million Americans. Assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi emphasized the administration’s commitment, stating, “Under President Biden, we are making the largest-ever investment to tackle the climate crisis, while reducing the risks of catastrophic fires and making communities safer, stronger, and more resilient.”

Now in its second year, the Community Wildfire Defense Grant program supports communities in the wildland-urban interface. It helps maintain resilient landscapes, create fire-adapted communities, and ensure safe, effective wildfire responses. These goals align with the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and the National Climate Resilience Framework.

Examples of funded projects include nearly $10 million for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma for prescribed fire, thinning, and firefighter training. Wasco County in Oregon will receive almost $6 million to create fuel breaks and defensible space to protect several communities. In Colorado, The Nature Conservancy will use nearly $9.9 million to protect Archuleta County and crucial watersheds that supply drinking water to Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Interest in the Community Wildfire Defense Grant program has grown since its inception, with a nearly 20% increase in funding and more projects being supported across additional states and Tribes.

Over the next five years, the program will invest $1 billion to assist at-risk communities. This funding will go to local and Tribal communities, non-profit organizations, state forestry agencies, and Alaska Native Corporations. The aim is to plan for and mitigate wildfire risks on lands not managed by federal agencies.

Combatting Wildfires: A Holistic Approach for a Safer Future

This initiative is significant for several reasons. First, it highlights the urgent need to address the growing wildfire crisis, which has become more severe due to climate change. By investing in preventative measures, the program seeks to reduce the occurrence and impact of these devastating fires.

Second, the program emphasizes the importance of community involvement. By working with local and Tribal organizations, the initiative ensures that those most affected by wildfires have a say in how the funds are used. This inclusive approach fosters resilience and preparedness at the grassroots level.

Finally, the program’s focus on sustainable practices, such as prescribed burns and vegetation thinning, contributes to overall forest health. Healthier forests are better able to withstand and recover from fires, benefiting both the environment and the communities that depend on these natural resources.

In conclusion, the USDA’s $250 million investment through the Community Wildfire Defense Grant program represents a major step forward in combating wildfires. By focusing on prevention, community involvement, and sustainability, this initiative aims to protect lives, property, and natural resources from the ever-growing threat of wildfires.

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