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USDA is investing more money into reducing wildfire risks. Gary Crawford has more. 

Audio file

PARTICIPANTS: Gary Crawford, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot.


The so-called wildfire season in the West used to be only a few months long, but over the last decade, fires have grown more numerous, bigger, more intense, much more dangerous, and the fire season has expanded so that...

Wildfire season is a misnomer.

It's truly a wildfire year.

People in the West are choking on smoke and families are fleeing from these mega blazes.

We have homes that were lost and many people are displaced.

The new normal is a summer of smoke, a huge health risk.

And so in 2022, the Agriculture Department's Forest Service announced a 10-year plan to reduce the wildfire threat, a plan focusing on 21 priority landscapes from which dead and dying trees and other hazardous fuels would gradually be removed.

And so...

The risk of wildfires being catastrophic or out of control gets reduced every single year we continue to do this work.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the work so far has been supported by a lot of money, over $3 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act.

And Vilsack has just announced another investment of $500 million to expand efforts to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

This will continue our work in terms of hazardous fuel reduction, prescribed burn and other treatments.

Vilsack telling reporters the other day that part of that $500 million new investment will be for a new program.

This is allowing us to begin to expand beyond the 21 priority areas into areas which we refer to as the Wildland Urban Interface or WUI.

And this is going to allow us 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.

California's Natural Resources Secretary is Wade Crowfoot.

He calls the expanded wildfire investments...

Truly a game changer.

In California, we have been impacted.

Seven percent of our state has burned in the last five years.

That's over seven million acres.

We very much feel like we're on the front lines of climate change in the West, whether it's worsening wildfire, more pernicious droughts, dangerous flooding.

And with President Biden and the Biden-Harris administration, we have had a true partner to protect Californians and Americans from these climate risks.

And Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says these investments will pay off with a big return.

The return on investment is safer communities.

It's protected watersheds.

It's miles of power lines that are under less risk.

And he says the hazardous fuel being removed from forests can be used to make many new products.

Which is obviously a job creator and obviously an opportunity for this hazardous fuel to be used in a positive and proactive way.

Vilsack said the job of reducing wildfire risk is going to take several years.

He hopes Congress will act on the budget to ensure steady funding for those years to come.

Gary Crawford for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.