Biden Plan Increases Funds for Thinning

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President Joe Biden’s proposed ‘Build Back Better’ spending plan for infrastructure includes more than $15 billion over the next decade to thin fire-prone forests and other projects to reduce forest fuels in California and other states.

Although the $1.75 trillion compromise plan is about half the size of the White House’s original $3.5 trillion proposal, it appears to represent a substantial increase in the federal government’s commitment to improve management of fire-prone forests.

“This is an absolute game-changer,” said Wade Crowfoot, secretary of California’s Natural Resources Agency. “If this holds, this would be a quantum leap.”

The bill language doesn’t spell out how much money would be spent in California. However, Crowfoot assumes California would get a major chunk of the funding based on “our share of hazardous wildfire threats.”

Last year California Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Forest Service leaders signed a nonbinding memorandum in which each pledged to thin and treat 500,000 acres of land annually.

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More than 6.5 million acres of land have burned in California the past two years, and Newsom and others have complained that the Forest Service needs to do more to prevent as well as fight wildfires. The agency controls 20 million acres in California, about one-fifth of the state’s total landmass.

In the past, the state has spent millions on fuels-reduction projects on Forest Service land, Crowfoot said. “We’ve been subsidizing work on federal lands. This underscored the need for the federal government (to increase spending).”

Bill Stewart, a forestry expert at the University of California-Berkeley, said it’s been obvious the Forest Service needs the additional resources. “The Forest Service right now is extremely expensive and not too effective,” he said.

Most mainstream fire and forestry scientists advocate some form of forest thinning as a means of reducing wildfire risk. Firefighters said extensive forestry projects around the Lake Tahoe basin in recent years were a major reason why the South Lake Tahoe area was spared major damage from the Caldor Fire this year.