USDA Invests $66 Million to Combat Wildfire Risk and Improve Forest Health

WildfirePhoto by Pixabay on Pexels.com

OLYMPIC VALLEY, CA — During the Western Governors’ Association meeting on June 11, 2024, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Xochitl Torres Small announced a substantial $66 million investment aimed at reducing wildfire risk, protecting water quality, and improving forest health nationwide. This funding aligns with President Biden’s Investing in America agenda.

In addition to the funding announcement, Deputy Secretary Torres Small signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Western Governors’ Association. The MOU renews the cooperative framework for addressing the multifaceted challenges faced across western landscapes. Governors from Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Wyoming joined in signing the agreement. This collaboration aims to integrate efforts in forest and rangeland health and wildfire risk reduction across various land ownerships.

“People across rural America face growing wildfire threats to their homes, business, infrastructure, and resources,” said Torres Small. “Through the investments announced today, President Biden is investing in state and local governments, Tribal partners, and private landowners to ensure our landscapes are healthy, our infrastructure is strong, and our communities stay safe.”

Breakdown of Funding Allocations

Of the total $66 million investment, $12 million will come from the USDA Forest Service’s Good Neighbor Authority. This allows the agency to collaborate with state forestry agencies, Tribes, and counties to mitigate wildfire risk and enhance forest, rangeland, and watershed health. These funds will support 22 projects across 13 states. Nearly $9 million will go to projects within the Western Governors’ Association member states, including Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

An additional $55 million will be directed through the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership. This collaborative effort between the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Forest Service aims to work with private, state, and Tribal landowners to conserve forests and agricultural lands. The $55 million will fund 41 projects, including 10 new initiatives, across 11 states.

Protecting Communities and Ecosystems

The increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires pose significant threats to rural communities. Wildfires not only destroy homes and businesses but also degrade natural resources vital to these areas. By investing in wildfire risk reduction and forest health, the USDA aims to safeguard these communities and preserve critical landscapes.

Improving forest and rangeland health has broader implications for environmental sustainability. Healthy forests play a crucial role in water quality, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity. These ecosystems act as natural buffers against climate change, helping to stabilize the environment and reduce the impact of extreme weather events.

The investment also supports President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative. This initiative aims to ensure that 40% of the benefits from federal climate and clean energy investments flow to disadvantaged communities. These communities often bear the brunt of pollution and underinvestment. By directing funds to these areas, the USDA aims to promote equity and environmental justice.

Future Opportunities

The NRCS and Forest Service are currently accepting proposals for the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership projects for fiscal year 2025. These projects can include post-fire watershed recovery efforts and wildlife corridors, alongside wildfire risk reduction and water quality protection. Applications are due by August 23, 2024.

“These projects are indicative of a growing movement of cooperation around natural resource issues for the betterment of us all,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore.

USDA’s $66 Million Investment

This $66 million investment represents a crucial step toward creating more resilient landscapes and communities. By focusing on wildfire risk reduction, water quality, and forest health, the USDA’s initiative addresses immediate and long-term environmental challenges. The collaborative approach involving state, Tribal, and private landowners ensures a comprehensive strategy that leverages local expertise and resources.

In summary, the USDA’s investment aims to protect rural America from wildfire threats while advancing environmental sustainability and social equity. This initiative not only aims to mitigate current risks but also to build a foundation for healthier, more resilient ecosystems and communities in the future.

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