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Biden administration announces $500 million for wildfire resilience

The Biden administration will put $500 million toward combating wildfires, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday. 

This total will include $400 million in funds from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) that will go toward 21 high-risk landscapes the Agriculture Department has identified as priorities. The remaining funds will be part of the U.S. Forest Service’s Collaborative Wildfire Risk Reduction Program, which focuses on risk mitigation outside the priority landscapes.

“This is allowing us to begin to expand beyond … the 21 priority areas into areas which we refer to as the wildland urban interface,” Vilsack said on a call with reporters Tuesday. “This is going to allow us with $100 million to help build local capacity to provide tools and resources so that we can provide those communities with assistance and help to reduce the risk of fire as it relates to their community.”

The funding announced Tuesday brings the total IRA and BIL funding for wildfire resilience to $2.4 billion. 

Vilsack also highlighted the importance of federal lawmakers reaching a government funding agreement, saying “a key component is the necessity of Congress finishing its work in establishing a budget for fiscal year 2024.”

Congress has passed three stopgap funding bills since the beginning of fiscal 2024. The next pair of government funding deadlines is March 1 and March 8.

“Without a budget, and without an allocation and appropriation to continue to pay firefighters what has been provided to them under the pay increase as well as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we risk losing key staff,” Vilsack said. “We’re encouraging Congress to work on the budget, so that we can continue to do good work.”

Vilsack also presented the funding as vital to the administration’s work mitigating the risks and byproducts of climate change. While climate change does not directly ignite wildfires, it is a major contributor to dryer conditions that allow both human-caused and naturally occurring fires to begin and spread. More than 53,000 fires burned nearly 2.61 million acres last year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. 

Source: The Hill

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