BOISE — Larger wildfires and longer seasons mean the U.S. must invest more in wildfire management and rural communities, President Joe Biden said during a Sept. 13 visit to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.
“From the Yellowstone fires to today, all has changed in a drastic way,” he said. “We are not going back.”
For example, the Dixie Fire in California now totals nearly 1 million acres compared to the 800,000-acre fire that consumed just over one-third of Yellowstone National Park 33 years ago.
Biden also visited Sacramento to tour wildfire damage in California.
In Boise, Idaho Gov. Brad Little told the president federal agencies have been key partners with states and others in reducing hazardous fuels across jurisdictional lines, but the Department of Justice could help by keeping approved projects from getting hung up in court.
He also thanked Biden for getting federal firefighters into the field promptly in this year’s busy Western wildfire season.
Little said in a post-event statement that it is imperative to keep lines of communication open with federal partners, up to the president, on ways to build a more fire-resilient range and forest ecosystem. Two-thirds of Idaho is public land managed by the federal government.
Washington State Forester George Geissler said at NIFC that safe, effective fire management requires cooperation among multiple agencies. State firefighters, for example, so far have responded to about 33,000 of the country’s 44,000 fires. The cooperation also impacts rural departments and projects that reduce wildfire fuel such as weeds.
“You have the full support of my administration,” Biden said.
“We owe you more than just our thanks,” he said. “We owe you what you need.”
Proposed federal Fiscal 2022 budgets included a 62% increase in hazardous-fuel treatments by the U.S. Department of the Interior and USDA Forest Service.
Biden said his spending bill sets aside $14 billion for disaster needs including $9 billion over a decade for communities hit by wildfire and drought.
The administration this year also bolstered federal firefighter pay, extended seasonal work periods and continued the transition to a more permanent wildland firefighting force; used the Defense Production Act to restart production of short supplies including fire hose; increased sharing of satellite images for monitoring wildfires; directed the Environmental Protection Agency to send smoke and air-quality information directly to Americans’ mobile phones; and with Congress made other investments.
More work needs to be done, including reducing the impact from climate change, Biden said.
“Failure to curb pollution is going to take its consequence,” the president said.
Idaho State Climatologist Russ Qualls of the University of Idaho said in an interview that in the Northwest, climate change ultimately could lead to more summer lightning in addition to extended periods for fuels to dry.