U.S. Crafts $50B Plan to Thin Forests Around Western 'Hotspots' Prone to Wildfires

The U.S. crafted a plan to thin forests around western "hotspots" prone to wildfires in a new 10-year strategy that combats the wildfire crisis.

On January 18, 2022, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service Chief Randy Moore launched the strategy to address the wildfires that have been occurring in the nation, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"You're going to have forest fires. The question is how catastrophic do those fires have to be," Vilsack told The Associated Press ahead of a planned public announcement of the Biden administration's $50 billion wildfire strategy during a Tuesday event in Phoenix.

The strategy plans to treat a maximum of 20 million more acres of national forests and grasslands, as well as an additional 30 million acres of other federal, state, Tribal, private, and family lands. Treatment is done with the use of thinning fuels and removing vegetation, the Wildfire Crisis Implementation Plan shows. There will also be investments in fire-adapted communities and work to curb post-fire risks, and address recovery and reforestation, according to the news release.

Wildfire Crisis Strategy, Tom Vilsack, Randy Moore
Work for the wildfire crisis strategy will start in areas that have been identified as having the highest risk due to community exposure, the news release said. In this photo, flames engulf homes as the Marshall Fire spreads through a neighborhood in the town of Superior in Boulder County, Colorado, on December 30, 2021. Jason Connolly/AFP via Getty Images

A majority of the additional treatments will occur in western hotspots, which have the highest risk to homes and communities, according to the implementation plan. Less than 10 percent of forests prone fires in the West are responsible for approximately 80 percent of the fire risk to communities, the implementation plan shows.

Work will start in areas that have been identified as having the highest risk due to community exposure, the news release said. Those areas include the Sierra Nevada Range in California, the front range in Colorado, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest. Other high-risk areas for water and other factors are being identified.

There have been over 10 million acres burned across the nation in 2020, 2017, and 2015, the news release said. In 2020 alone, Colorado had three of the state's largest fires on record.

"The negative impacts of today's largest wildfires far outpace the scale of efforts to protect homes, communities and natural resources," Vilsack said in the news release. "Our experts expect the trend will only worsen with the effects of a changing climate, so working together toward common goals across boundaries and jurisdictions is essential to the future of these landscapes and the people who live there."

The plan will be partly funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which allocates almost $3 billion to decrease hazardous fuels, restore forests and grasslands in the U.S., and invest in fire-adapted communities and post-fire reforestation, according to the news release. The work will be done in collaboration with the Forest Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, other federal agencies, tribes, states, local communities, landowners, and other partners, the implementation plan says.

"We already have the tools, the knowledge and the partnerships in place to begin this work in many of our national forests and grasslands, and now we have funding that will allow us to build on the research and the lessons learned to address this wildfire crisis facing many of our communities," Moore said in the news release. "We want to thank Congress, the President and the American people for entrusting us to do this important work."

Colorado, Fire Damage, Boulder, $513 Million
The word OK is spraypainted on the remains of a home in a neighborhood decimated by the December 30, 2021, wildfire in Louisville, Colorado. Officials said Thursday the fire destroyed nearly 1,100 buildings and caused an estimated $513 million in damage. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images