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Biden unveils $500 million push to combat worsening wildfires

By Jake Beardslee · February 20, 2024

In brief…

  • $500 million for wildfire mitigation - $400 million for 21 priority zones, $100 million for other areas
  • Brings total wildfire resilience funding to $2.4 billion from recent legislation
  • Vilsack urges Congress to pass full-year budget to retain firefighting staff
  • Combating wildfires is critical amid climate change driving dryer conditions
The Biden administration is allocating $500 million, with $2.4 billion total, to combat wildfires through efforts in high-risk zones and local communities, which Agriculture Secretary Vilsack framed as vital for addressing climate change.  The White House/Wikimedia

The Biden administration is allocating significant funds to combat the growing wildfire threat across the United States. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday that $500 million will be directed towards wildfire mitigation efforts.

The majority of the funding, $400 million from the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will focus on 21 high-risk landscapes identified as priorities by the Agriculture Department. “This is allowing us to begin to expand beyond … the 21 priority areas into areas which we refer to as the wildland urban interface,” Vilsack said, according to The Hill. The remaining $100 million will go to the U.S. Forest Service’s Collaborative Wildfire Risk Reduction Program to support risk reduction outside the priority zones.

“This is going to allow us with $100 million 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 as it relates to their community,” Vilsack explained.

The $500 million announced brings total funding for wildfire resilience from the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to $2.4 billion. Vilsack stressed the importance of Congress passing a full government funding bill, stating “Without a budget, and without an allocation and appropriation to continue to pay firefighters what has been provided to them under the pay increase as well as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we risk losing key staff.”

The Agriculture Secretary framed the wildfire mitigation efforts as crucial for addressing climate change, which is exacerbating dry conditions that allow fires to spread rapidly. Last year saw over 53,000 fires burn nearly 2.61 million acres according to the National Interagency Fire Center.