(Reuters) – The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Thursday it would invest another $490 million to combat wildfire risk in the western United States, citing a growing threat of devastating blazes due to climate change.
The funding, authorized by last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, comes after a 2022 that saw huge wildfires in North and South America, Europe, Australia and parts of Asia that scientists say are being driven by warmer, drier weather.
“It is no longer a matter of if a wildfire will threaten many western communities in these landscapes, it is a matter of when,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The need to invest more and to move quickly is apparent. This is a crisis and President Biden is treating it as one.”
The money would be used mainly to perform prescribed burns and remove dead wood and vegetation in forest in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington, Vilsack said.
The administration last year unveiled a 10-year plan to treat and maintain millions of additional acres (hectares) of forests in the western United States to reduce the severity of seasonal blazes, with the first big tranche of funding – some $440 million – coming from the Infrastructure Act of 2021.
The U.S. Forest Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, has historically treated up to 2 million acres (800,000 hectares) in the western United States annually.
Wildfires burned more than 7.5 million acres in the United States in 2022, according to U.S. government statistics, causing billions of dollars in damage.
(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Bradley Perrett)