USDA to Spend $197M to Prepare for Wildfires Brought On by Climate Change

Federal officials announced $197 million in grants to help more than 100 communities and tribes across the nation become more resilient to wildfire. 

Source: USA Today | Published on March 21, 2023

supply chain issues following wildfires

Federal officials announced $197 million in grants on Monday to help more than 100 communities and tribes across the nation become more resilient to wildfire.

The number of acres burned by wildfires in the United States has more than doubled over 30 years, said Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking during a news conference on the grant projects.

Wildfires are expected to become more extensive with climate change, Harris said. She referred to the latest findings by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released Monday, which show extreme heat and drought have become more common and are worsening wildfire conditions.

“We used to talk about wildfire season,” Harris said. “Now wildfire season is all year round.”

The more than 90 grants are intended to help the communities become safer and lower their wildfire risk through programs such as planning, training and reducing available fuels on land in wildfire-prone areas. The money — from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — will be distributed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

How many wildfires are there?

The combination of climate change and increased development, combined with years of excluding natural fire from ecosystems, has led to year-round fire activity, said agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack.

While the overall number of wildfires has decreased nationwide slightly over time, the number of acres burned has increased. The 10-year average for acres burned has more than doubled since 1994.

The top five years with the most acres burned by wildfires since 1960 have all come since 2006, according to a March 1 report by the Congressional Research Service.

The three biggest years for acres burned were 2015, 2017 and 2020, each slightly over 10 million acres.

Last year, 68,988 wildfires burned more than 7.6 million acres.

So far this year, the number of fires and acres burned is below the 10-year average, with 5,972 wildfires over 77,759 acres.

The East gets more wildfires, but the West suffers from more acres burned, the Research Service reported.

Where’s the new wildfire funding committed?

Of the 20 states where projects will be funded, the 10 states receiving the most money are:

  • California $78.9 million
  • Washington $24.9 million
  • Oregon $23.5 million
  • New Mexico $11.5 million
  • Montana $9.3 million
  • Utah $5 million
  • Nevada $2.3 million
  • North Carolina $1.4 million
  • Colorado $1.1 million
  • Minnesota $890,925

Are there other federal programs with additional money for wildfire resilience? Yes.

In total, the administration said Monday the Infrastructure Act committed more than $7 billion in funding for the ag department, the interior department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to mitigate and respond to wildfires.

Last week, the Department of the Interior announced it would distribute $50 million from the Infrastructure Act for wildfire management and hazardous fuels treatment, to help limit wildfire severity in at-risk areas.

The Interior department stated it’s investing $1.5 billion over five years to support federal wildland fire fighting and community resilience.