Devastating Fires Cause Massive US Forest Service Response
When Jerry Perez was announced as the new US Forest Service Fire and Aviation Director recently, Chief Randy Moore said the department would be "significantly increasing the pace and scale of hazardous fuels treatments" as a response to the growing wildfire crisis.
This week, Moore and the Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack presented a 10-year plan to increase fuels and forest health treatments, centered on high risk "firesheds" in the Pacific Northwest, the Sierra Nevada Range of California and the front range of the Rockies in Colorado.
In a news release, officials defined Firesheds as large, forested landscapes, about 250,000 acres in size, with a high likelihood that an ignition could expose homes, communities, infrastructure and natural resources to wildfire.
The Forest Service is developing plans to treat up to an additional 20 million acres on national forest and grassland, with work on another 30 million acres of federal, state, tribal and private lands. The main treatment methods would be thinning the forests and using prescribed burns to reduce hazardous fuels. There would also be work on helping communities become "fire-adapted," along with addressing post-fire risks, recovery and reforestation.
Funding of $3 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be used to begin the plan. The Forest Service is reaching out to other agencies such as the Department of the Interior and other private and public partners to accomplish the ambitious projects, based on the best available science.
In only three years, 2015, 2017 and 2020, more than 10 million acres burned nationwide and the running 5-year average number of destroyed structures climbed from 2,873 in 2014 to 12,255 in 2020. A winter fire in Montana showed the devastating nature of the wildfires.
Moore said in the news release, "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."
The plan is called "Confronting the Wildfire Crisis: A Strategy for Protecting Communities and Improving Resilience in America's Forests."