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Management Side

Wildfire Risk Management

There were 55,571 wildfires in 2023 across the US, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.

On May 20, 2024, a memo was sent from the US Secretary of the Interior to several agencies with a 2024 direction to wildland fire leadership.

The letter states that "Already this year, we have seen wildland firefighters work under extreme conditions to save lives and protect communities and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire. Thanks to your leadership, wildland fire personnel are always prepared to respond to wildfires no matter when or where they occur.

The weather patterns that drove the 2023 fire year in the United States, combined with the effective response of our wildland firefighters, resulted in less widespread large wildfire activity with more than 2.6 million acres burned despite 56,580 wildfires occurring across the country, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. Several devastating wildfires nevertheless resulted in significant regional and local impacts, civilian deaths, housing and infrastructure losses, and resource damage. Fortunately, one result of this less widespread wildfire activity in the United States was that our wildland firefighters were available to assist Canada during its unprecedented fire year.

As climate change continues to drive the devastating intersection of extreme heat, drought, and the spread of invasive species, wildfire activity is trending toward increasingly intense, destructive fires that have profound impacts on our natural landscapes, communities, and public health. Wildfire is also becoming an emergent threat in areas that have little or no history of wildfire and during times of year when landscapes typically have not burned. It is more important than ever that we foster strong partnerships and work across jurisdictional boundaries to confront this growing threat. Last year, the Wildland Fire Leadership Council released an 2 update to the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy to provide new guidance on addressing today's wildfire challenges, working beyond organizational silos to collectively define and mitigate risk. The Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture are working to incorporate these recommendations into our respective wildland fire management strategies, and we encourage you to embrace the tenets of the Cohesive Strategy.

The low number of acres burned compared with recent years allowed us to complete historic levels of hazardous fuels treatments and the highest-ever acreage of prescribed fire application. As you know, this work is necessary to restore fire-adapted ecosystems and reduce the risk that high-severity fires pose to public health, infrastructure, natural resources, and communities. This hazardous fuels work was supported by the historic investments from President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, and those investments are paying off. Our two Departments will continue to work collaboratively with Tribes and other public and private partners to confront the wildfire crisis."

Will these efforts be enough this summer?

According to a recent article from the Washington Post, it states that "The U.S. Forest Service is losing experience. Federal firefighters are quitting. Leadership is leaving. Recruitment is abysmal. The reason is simple: The government hasn't significantly raised pay in decades."

In a recent article from PROPUBLICA, it states "But at exactly the time when the country needs wildland firefighters more than ever, the federal government is losing them. In the past three years, according to the Forest Service's own assessments, it has suffered an attrition rate of 45% among its permanent employees. Many people inside and outside the fire service believe this represents one of the worst crises in its history."

In an article from E&ENews by Politico, it states that "USFS analysis: Wildfire risk greater than previously thought."

The article goes on to state that "Wildfires threaten nearly one-third of U.S. residents and buildings, according to a new government analysis that suggests the risk is greater than previously known."

There are already new wildfires in Canada.

According to a recent article from NBC news, it states that "Canada has 146 active wildfires burning, including dozens in British Columbia and Alberta that are characterized as "out of control," according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre."

Like many other infrastructure issues in the US, wildland fires need attention.

Helen Roush is Executive Vice President of Paperitalo Publications.



 


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