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KUNR Public Radio is a proud partner in the Mountain West News Bureau, a partnership of public media stations that serve Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming. The mission is to tell stories about the people, places and issues of the Mountain West.

Millions of Mountain West acres are part of USDA’s new wildfire strategy

An aerial view of a wildfire burning and billowing clouds of white smoke into the air in Nevada.
Courtesy of InciWeb
Hundreds of wildfires occur each year in Nevada, such as the Becky Peak Fire, seen here burning about 50 miles north of Ely on July 9, 2022.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is spending more than $490 million to reduce wildfire risk in the West.

The federal funding, which comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, is being invested in 11 especially fire-prone landscapes.

In the Mountain West, the money targets a total of nearly 10 million acres. In Idaho, $34 million will bring fuels treatments and watershed restoration projects to 1.5 million acres of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. In eastern California and northern Nevada, 3.4 million acres of the Sierra and Elko Fronts is getting $57.3 million.

In Utah, $18.2 million is going to 1.1 million acres of the Wasatch landscape that includes four high-risk firesheds, while another $6.9 million will fund forest management projects across 402,000 acres of southwest Utah referred to as the Pine Valley landscape. In Arizona, $32 million is going toward 3 million acres of the San Carlos Apache Tribal Forest Protection Project.

During a press call Wednesday, Jan. 18, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said projects will focus on reducing hazardous fuels and restoring old-growth forests near underserved communities and tribal lands.

“We look forward to protecting important infrastructure, powerlines, dams, municipal watersheds, military infrastructure, as well,” said Vilsack, adding that the department will spend more on these efforts in the future. “This is going to require a long-term commitment that spans a number of years. We didn't get into this circumstance overnight, we're not going to get out of it overnight.”

In fact, this is only the second year of the 10-year strategy developed by the USDA and the U.S. Forest Service to address the wildfire crisis, representing $930 million across 45 million acres so far.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.