PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday that the federal government has allocated additional funding to expand efforts to reduce wildfire risk in western states. Oregon and Washington will both receive support.
The announcement said more than $490 million will be issued to address the wildfire crisis in 11 key landscapes across the western United States.
These landscapes will be added to the 10 landscape project areas that the U.S. Forest Service assigned wildfire funding to in 2022. It brings the USDA’s total investment to $930 million. The money will support 45 million acres.
The USDA said these investments were made possible through President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.
This newly allocated funding will go toward the Mount Hood National Forest and Klamath River Basin in Oregon, along with the Colville National Forest in Washington.
In Fiscal Year 2023, the Mount Hood National Forest will receive $4.5 million. The Klamath River Basin in Oregon and California will receive $35.4 million and the Colville National Forest will be funded with $2.16 million.
Landscapes in Arizona, California, Idaho and Nevada also received part of the increased funding.
“The need to invest more and to move quickly is apparent. This is a crisis and President Biden is treating it as one,” Vilsack said.
He said the money will be used to restore national forests, including the restoration of “resilient old-growth forest conditions.”
According to The Associated Press, the idea is to remove flammable material and many trees from areas that are considered “hotspots.” These areas make up a small portion of fire-prone areas but account for about 80% of risk to communities.
Glenn Casamassa, regional forester for the Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service, said Thursday’s announcement is great news for Oregon and Washington’s national forests.
“These investments will allow us to do more work with tribes, the states, and our partner organizations to increase the health and resiliency of our forests and reduce the potential for devastating wildfires,” he said.
In Vilsack’s announcement Wednesday, he also authorized the U.S. Forest Service to use a new emergency authority in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which the Forest Service can combine with how it currently implements existing authorities. Federal officials believe this will allow the agency to move more quickly to respond to high-risk firesheds that were identified in the agency’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy, as well as post-fire recovery areas that were heavily impacted in recent years.
The Forest Service says firesheds are landscapes of about 250,000 acres in which an ignition can spread and expose communities to wildfire.
“Doing this work in the right place, at the right time, and at the right scale, combined with the use of emergency authorities, will accelerate our planning, consultation, contracting, hiring and project work to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health and resilience,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “Collaboration with Tribes, communities and partners will remain a priority, and we will continue to use the best available science when carrying out this important work.”
Central Oregon and Central Washington were both landscapes that received funding in the 2022 Wildfire Crisis Strategy. They were two of the initial 10 fire-prone landscapes that were identified.
The 2022 work included tree thinning and controlled burns across 5,000 square miles of U.S. forest, Vilsack said.