During a visit to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) recently, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the allocation of $103 million in fiscal year 2022 for wildfire risk reduction efforts throughout the country from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the establishment of an interagency wildland firefighter health and wellbeing program.
“As wildfire seasons become longer, more intense and more dangerous, President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is bringing much-needed support to communities across the country to increase the resilience of lands and better support federal wildland firefighters,” said Secretary Haaland. “Wildland firefighters work in incredibly stressful environments that can take a significant toll on their overall health and wellbeing, as well as on those who love them. Standing up a targeted interagency effort to provide trauma-informed mental health care is critical.”
While at NIFC, Secretary Haaland met with federal firefighting leadership, including representatives from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Office of Wildland Fire and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. She received a briefing on the current and prospective fire outlook and highlighted how investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will bring much-needed support to communities across the country to increase the resilience of lands facing the threat of wildland fires and to better support federal wildland firefighters.
Wildland Firefighter Mental Wellness Program
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law directs the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture to increase focus on wildland firefighters’ physical and mental wellbeing. The newly established joint program will address mental health needs, including post-traumatic stress disorder care for permanent, temporary, seasonal and year-round wildland firefighters at both agencies. The joint program will also address environmental hazards to minimize on-the-job exposure for wildland firefighters.
The Interior Department’s program will connect existing efforts and establish year-round prevention and mental health training for wildland firefighters and create critical incident stress management staffing response. It will also add capacity to each of the agency’s wildland fire management bureaus. Departmental and interagency coordination will be done through the Office of Wildland Fire, which will help to create a new system of trauma support services with an emphasis on early intervention.
Wildfire Mitigation and Resilience
The initial distribution of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding will invest across BIA, BLM, USFWS, NPS, U.S. Geological Survey and other Department of the Interior offices to support efforts to reduce wildfire risk, support post-fire rehabilitation, and fund wildfire science. As part of the $103 million announced today, $80.9 million will go to accelerating the pace and scale of fuels management work, which reduces risk through strategic removal of potential wildfire hazards. Due to the increase in funding, the Department plans to accomplish a total of two million acres of fuel treatments this fiscal year, an increase of 30% over last year. In addition, $19.4 million in funds will go to accelerating the pace and scale of Burned Area Rehabilitation, which supports post-wildfire landscape recovery.
A portion of funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will also be used to continue the development of a wildfire risk mapping and mitigation tool, which is being developed jointly with the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters. The tool will allow stakeholders to engage in planning efforts to reduce wildfire risk by facilitating the coordination and prioritization of fuel treatments based on the highest risk areas and impacts on communities and infrastructure.
The law also provides increased support to the Joint Fire Science Program, an interagency partnership with the USDA Forest Service that funds wildfire science research projects. A total of $3.1 million will be used to support climate-related research towards a better understanding of firefighter mental health, landscape resiliency, and the beneficial uses of prescribed fire, carbon storage, and greenhouse gas and smoke emissions.
The Department’s recently released Five-year Monitoring, Maintenance, and Treatment Plan to address wildfire risk laid out a road map for achieving these objectives in coordination with federal, non-federal and Tribal partners. In combination with the USDA Forest Service’s 10-Year Wildfire Crisis Strategy, these plans outline the monitoring, maintenance and treatment strategy the agencies will use to address wildfire risk, better serve communities and improve conditions on all types of lands where wildfires can occur.