wildfire fighters

A crew sets out to fight California’s Dixie fire on Aug. 21, when the fire had spread to 710,000 acres. To help states prepare for and respond to wildfire, a new federal effort would increase firefighter compensation. (Ty O’Neil/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Fighting Back: State Efforts to Prevent Wildfires

By Kim Tyrrell | Aug. 31, 2021 | State Legislatures News | Print

From 1985 to 1999, the U.S. government spent about $425 million annually on wildfire suppression. From 2000 to 2019, the annual average jumped to $1.6 billion, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

State spending, especially in the West, has been on a similar trajectory. Communities across the country are all too familiar with the devastation caused by wildfires, so the question is: What can states do to address both short- and long-term wildfire threats? Here are just a few steps that legislatures have taken recently: 

  • In Oregon, lawmakers are considering a bill (SB 786, 2021) that would establish a program to use targeted livestock grazing on state lands to reduce wildfire fuel loads.
  • Colorado recently enacted SB 258, which specifies that money in a wildfire mitigation fund will be appropriated for supporting wildfire mitigation workforce development, including the engagement of the Department of Corrections State Wildland Inmate Fire Teams in priority mitigation projects.
  • Arizona legislators recently appropriated millions to support additional fire mitigation personnel, hazardous vegetation removal and mitigation projects to address flooding that can occur after a wildfire.
  • In Utah, lawmakers passed HB 65 2021, which, among other things, created the Wildland Fire Suppression Fund.

With recognition at the federal level that wildfires are a growing threat to communities across the country, President Joe Biden’s administration recently outlined a number of efforts to help states prepare and respond. These measures include increasing firefighter compensation, use of GIS mapping software to spot potential trouble spots, and access to air support to help fight fires.

The White House also announced that two new working groups addressing wildfires and extreme heat will receive $5 billion in funding. The Wildfire Resilience Interagency Working Group will coordinate strategies for battling wildfires, including investments in forest thinning and prescribed fire, and will be led by the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior. The Extreme Heat Interagency Working Group will focus on developing both short- and long-term strategies to reduce the impact of extreme heat on vulnerable communities.

With support from their federal agency partners, states will likely be making additional investments in mitigating and fighting wildfires to help offset the impacts of long-term droughts and higher temperatures in many parts of the U.S. NCSL is tracking this issue, and past bills along with those currently introduced can be found in the Environment and Natural Resources Bill Tracking Database.

Kim Tyrrell is an associate director in NCSL’s Environment, Energy and Transportation Program.

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