Reprinted with permission from World At Large, a news website of nature, science, health, politics, and travel.
Last month was the hottest July on record, and social media feeds have been awash with images and videos of devastating global wildfires, such as the one shrouding much of Russia.
“More than 21,000 square miles of forest have gone up in flames in Siberia this month, putting Russia on track for its worst year on record for wildfires,” reported Vox last week.
Thankfully, the recently-approved 2020 fiscal budget for the United States is set to increase funding for the National Forest Service by six times, including more than $3 billion specifically set aside for firefighting initiatives—and in order to prevent the scope of American wildfires from reaching the levels they did last year, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is taking advantage of the new budget by preparing America’s forests, particularly in the West, for fire season.
In 2018, $2.6 billion dollars—much of it pulled from non-fire related sources—was spent on fighting fires that scorched 8.8 million acres of National Forests.
Under the recently-approved Congressional budget, funding for firefighting activities has risen to $3.3 billion dollars, and the budget also reauthorized money to cover deferred maintenance projects on America’s public lands and parks.
Armed with the new and improved firefighting budget, Sec. Bernhardt is carrying out the preventative methods as follows:
- Alaska, Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Virginia, Minnesota, and Utah have all conducted prescribed burnings to clear out deadwood and litter that could become fuel for possible fires in the future.
- Legislators in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, and Utah are working on a large-scale collaboration to add 11,000 miles worth of bare stretches known as “fuel breaks”. Similar to tank traps in World War II, fuel breaks are swaths of strategically designated landscape that have been cleared to prevent fires from spreading.
- In order to allow for greater mobility and fire suppression, firefighting teams across these states will also have access to dozens more planes and helicopters.
“As stewards of one-fifth of the country’s public lands, primarily in the West, we know that our ability to be prepared for wildfires and reduce their severity is paramount to protecting communities and saving lives,” Bernhardt said in a statement.
“In collaboration with local, state, and other federal partners, we are using everything in our arsenal to prepare for wildfires this year, treating more than one million acres”.
Fortunately for Americans, a cool, wet spring has led planners to believe this season will not come close to the challenges experienced in 2018.
The Department of the Interior is taking the threat of fires as seriously as ever before, and Sec. Bernhardt, who took over the position in the President Trump Administration in April, has tackled few Interior issues in his short tenure as determinedly as this season’s wildfires.
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