Idaho wildfire management gets $8 billion from infrastructure law

As wildfire seasons get longer and drier, the federal government is providing more funds to prevent, manage and suppress wildfires.

BOISE, Idaho – Wildfire seasons worsen in length and severity according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).

Wildfires burned over 7 million acres of land in 2021 and over 10 million acres in 2020.

In response to the growing threat, the NIFC briefed Boise Mayor Lauren McLean Monday morning alongside US Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary Tommy Beaudreau on what to expect in the future.

“Last year was one of the most severe fire seasons this county has ever seen. We were at the highest level of firefighting readiness for 99 days, that was a record. Some of the outlook [for this fire season]it’s still early, is in very similar conditions,” said Beaudreau.

Congress passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Act in late 2021 – it finances forest fire management programs to the tune of 8.25 billion dollars. According to Beaudreau, it is money that is needed to control forest fires in the West.

“It’s making substantial investments at all levels, including in treatment and trying to come to terms with fuels that threaten communities,” Beaudreau said.

Some of that money goes to the firefighters themselves. Federal wildland firefighters will now earn at least $15 an hour. More than 500 seasonal wildland firefighter jobs will also turn into full-time, year-round positions.

“This is one of the most important public safety jobs that happens in the United States. The fact that many of these firefighters who are literally our first responders who are putting their lives on the line weren’t making a living , at least $15 and hours, I think we can all agree that’s unacceptable,” Beaudreau said. “Raising those wages — those wages — was the least we could do. We have to build from there.”

These federal dollars will also help the DOI, FEMA, and USDA Forrest Service create the Forest Fire Mitigation and Management Commission.

The commission intends to create policy recommendations regarding the prevention, management and suppression of forest fires. The commission will present its recommendations to Congress, according to its website.

“It tries to provide a strategic framework to promote planning and forward-looking issues like fuels management,” Beaudreau said. “It is intended to build our capabilities, but also to provide a platform for better strategic work and coordination in the future.”

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