US plans $50 billion to fight wildfires, where forests meet civilization – Orange County Register


BILLS, Mont. (AP) – The Biden administration plans to significantly expand efforts to prevent catastrophic wildfires that have consumed parts of the western United States by thinning the forests around areas. called “hot spots” where nature and its surroundings collide.

As climate change heats and dries up in the West, administration officials say they have drawn up a $50 billion plan to double the use of controlled fires and logging. to reduce trees and other vegetation for tillage in areas most at risk.

They said work would begin this year and the plan would focus on areas where out-of-control fires have wiped out neighborhoods and sometimes entire communities – including the Sierra Mountains. Nevada of California, east of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and parts of Arizona, Oregon and Washington state. Homes continued to be built in fire-prone areas, even as the outbreak worsened.

“You are going to have a forest fire. The question is how dire those fires are,” Agricultural Sec. Tom Vilsack told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of the administration’s wildfire strategy announcement Tuesday in Phoenix.

“Now action is needed if we are to change the trajectory of these fires over time,” says Vilsack.

Specific projects were not immediately announced, and it is unclear who will pay for the full scope of work envisioned across nearly 80,000 square miles (200,000 square kilometers) – an area roughly the size of Idaho. Much of that area is controlled by states, tribes or privately owned.

To achieve that goal, it is estimated that about $20 billion over 10 years will be needed for national forest work and $30 billion for private lands, states, said Vilsack spokeswoman Kate Waters. other tribes and confederations.

Vilsack acknowledged that the new effort would also require a “paradigm shift” in the US Forest Service, from one that specializes in extinguishing fires, to one that employs what some Native Americans call “good fire” on the forest and land to prevent a more brilliant outbreak.

The Forest Service’s planning documents indicate that work will focus on “hot spots” that represent only 10 percent of the nation’s fire-prone areas but represent 80 percent of the risk to fire-prone areas. communities because of their population density and location.

The recently passed federal infrastructure bill places a down payment on the initiative — $3.2 billion over five years that Vilsack says will get the job done quickly.

Wildfire expert John Abatzoglou said reducing fire risk on the land envisioned under the government’s plan was a “lofty goal” that represented an area even more than the number of affected areas. burning in the last 10 years all over the West. But Abatzoglou, a University of California Merced engineering professor, says it makes sense to focus on wildfire hazards closest to communities.

“Our scorecard on fire should be about the lives saved rather than the acres that did not burn,” he said.

Dealing with wildfires in the West is becoming increasingly urgent as they become more destructive and intense. There have been rare winter fires in recent weeks, including hell in Montana and Colorado, where a wildfire on December 30 tore through a suburb and destroyed more than 1,000 buildings , leaving one dead and a second still missing.

And there is no sign of shutdown in the extremely high fire hazard conditions. A long-term “super-drought” is enveloping the region, and scientists predict temperatures will continue to rise as more climate-changing carbon emissions are pumped into the atmosphere.

The impact extends beyond the western US as heavy smoke billowing at the height of wildfire season in the US and Canada has spread health effects across North America – causing unhealthy pollution last summer to major cities from San Francisco to Philadelphia and Toronto.

For decades, the main approach to preventing and extinguishing wildfires has been to try to extinguish them. These efforts are similar to large-scale military operations, involving aircraft, fleets of heavy equipment and thousands of firefighters and support personnel deployed to the fire zones.

However, fires are part of the natural cycle for most forests, so place them outside of stumps that aren’t surrounded by dead wood, bushes, and combustible fuels. other – worst case when the flame ignites.

Critics say US agencies are too focused on fighting fires and that trying to solve the problem by cutting more trees will only harm forests. In South Dakota’s Black Hills, for example, government biologists have said that too many tree deaths from a combination of insects, fire and logging have made current levels of logging unsustainable. .

However, Vilsack says the combination of thinning trees and intentionally setting fires to clear the growth known as regulated burning will make forests healthier in the long run while also reducing termites. threat to public safety.

The thinning forest near Lake Tahoe and its tourist gateway community in South Lake Tahoe is believed to have slowed the progress of the massive Caldor Fire last summer that destroyed nearly 800 homes and displaced tens of thousands of residents. Residents and tourists had to evacuate.

A similar phenomenon occurred during the Bootleg Fire in Oregon last July, which burned more than 600 square miles (1,500 square kilometers) but caused less damage to forests that have been sparse in the past decade.

“We know this works,” says Vilsack. “It’s about removing some of the wood, in a very scientific and thoughtful way, so that at the end of the day the fire doesn’t continue to spread from tree to treetop, but eventually gets to a place where we can put it out. they. ” US plans $50 billion to fight wildfires, where forests meet civilization – Orange County Register

Huynh Nguyen

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