Biden Administration Invests $197 Million Into Wildfire Defense Fund

Kate Heston – Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Mont.
Mar. 22—A $197 million investment into a community wildfire defense program was announced by Vice President Kamala Harris, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and White House Senior Advisor Mitch Landrieu on Monday.

Officials are distributing the dollars across 22 states and seven Tribes, channeling the investments into 100 communities deemed at-risk nationwide. In Montana, the Blackfoot Watershed Fire Refugia and Lincoln, Gallatin and Treasure counties are all receiving funding.

“Our future is not yet written and the solutions are at hand,” Harris said during a webinar announcement. “So let that be an alarm that lets us know that we must act with haste and we can actually, right now, have an impact on how this all plays out.”

The financing comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Wildfire Defense Grant program, which is funded via the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Libby is receiving nearly $6 million through the Lincoln County Wildland Urban Interface Communities Wildfire Risk Mitigation Campaign. The money will be used to implement wildfire fuel mitigation work on approximately 500 acres as well as education and outreach.

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Vilsack said this round of funding is only the beginning. He noted that the Biden Administration’s 2024 budget includes increases in wildfire spending, among them stronger financial and health support for firefighters.

The vice president pointed toward climate change as a key reason for an increased need in fire resistance funding. Recent decades have seen a profound change in wildfire patterns, she said. No longer contained to a season, Harris said, wildfires now rage year round.

“Over the past 30 years, in fact, the number of acres burned per year by wildfire has more than doubled,” Harris said. “This is in large [part] the result of the climate crisis.”

Harris referenced the newest climate report from the United Nations, which found that the world is likely to miss its target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within a decade. Harris labeled the assessment as dire.

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Landrieu urged Congress to step up to the plate on Monday as well, referencing the size and scope of last year’s wildfires as a major concern.

“Last year nearly 70,000 fires burned over 7.5 million acres: an area larger than the entire state of New Jersey,” Landrieu said.

Landrieu said the funding represented a whole government approach, with coordination across multiple federal agencies including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Wildfires do not recognize boundaries or management jurisdictions,” Vilsack said, echoing Landrieu.

He said that the funds are directed to non federal lands and will complement the ongoing work that the Forest Service and the Interior Department are undertaking.

Communities can use the money to develop a protection plan against wildfires or implement projects included in an existing plan, such as evacuation planning, community education and clearing flammable material from around homes. The criteria for funding was based on the potential for wildfire occurrence and past wildfire history and was prioritized for low income communities.

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Harris, Vilsack and Landrieu all noted that this is the first wave of funding, a “critical downpayment” of sorts, according to Vilsack. The bipartisan infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act includes a total of over $7 billion to mitigate and respond to wildfires.

The bipartisan infrastructure law also created the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission to improve federal policies related to wildland fires. According to Harris, Americans can expect more work towards wildfire defense and prevention.

Reporter Kate Heston can be reached at [email protected] or at 758-4459.

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Kate Heston – Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Mont. Mar. 22—A $197 million investment into a community wildfire defense program was announced by Vice President Kamala Harris, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and White House Senior Advisor Mitch Landrieu on Monday. Officials are distributing the dollars across 22 states and seven Tribes, channeling the investments into 100 communities deemed at-risk nationwide. In Montana, the Blackfoot […]

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