Federal funding targets wildfire risk in southwestern Idaho

Millions of dollars from the Federal Infrastructure Act will go towards the implementation of the US Forest Service’s 10-year forest fire strategy.

An initial investment of $131 million will focus on ten high-priority projects in eight states, including Idaho. The Southwest Idaho Fuel Reduction Project is one of the initiatives to receive funding.

The project builds on efforts already underway in Idaho to reduce wildfire risk, such as the Good Neighbor Authority and Shared Stewardship Programs. They work to ensure that forestry treatments take place cooperatively on federal and state lands.

The new project is expected to receive about $60 million over the next two years for work on 55,000 acres that could include non-commercial thinning and prescribed burning. The goal is to treat 18,000 acres this year.

Through this effort, the Forest Service wants to reduce hazardous fuels and the risk of catastrophic fires in southwestern Idaho cities such as Boise, Garden Valley and McCall. The projects will take place on federal lands and state, local and private lands.

“The focus is on large-scale work across the agency that results in reduced fire risk for communities, wider resilient forests across our country, and local, stable jobs. and quality in the communities we are part of,” said Chris. French, the Deputy Chief of the National Forest System. He spoke Tuesday at a forest restoration conference focused on Idaho and Montana about infrastructure law investments.

According to a 2021 report by CoreLogic, a financial and real estate analytics firm, Idaho ranks second in the proportion of housing stock threatened by wildfires.

As one of the fastest growing states, Idaho’s development is being pushed into the wild-urban interface surrounding towns like Boise.

There are many challenges, said French, in scaling up this work of forest resilience in the face of climate change. One of them is work.

“You have two things that happen: very limited staff to start with, and then that staff gets diverted to work on the fire,” he said.

When most of the country’s fire professionals are concurrently working to put out fires around communities, as they have been for the past two years, there are few staff left to work on preventative forest treatment initiatives.

That’s why collaborative approaches are important, French said. The Southwest Idaho Fuel Reduction Project includes state and federal agencies, local governments, and nonprofits.

Find journalist Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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