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KUNR Today: Infrastructure bill funding wildfire prevention, International Basque festival postponed

An image of a wildland firefighter looking on a fire burning through grass and brush
Courtesy Austin Catlin
Bureau of Land Management
A wildland firefighter responds to the Walker Levee Fire in Idaho

Read or listen to the morning news headlines for Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.

Wildfire prevention getting boost from infrastructure bill
By Nate Hegyi, Mountain West News Bureau

President Biden’s new infrastructure law gives federal agencies more than $2 billion to expand prescribed burning and other prevention techniques. The new law says federal agencies have to treat 10 million acres near towns and drinking water sources within the next six years.

The goal is to clear out underbrush using prescribed burns or chainsaws. It also calls for building more fire breaks, which are big open lines across the landscape that slow down severe wildfires.

Riva Duncan is a retired regional fire chief with the U.S. Forest Service and, also, a member of the advocacy group Grassroots Wildland Firefighters. She applauded the moves but said the federal government also needs to boost its workforce to handle these increased demands.

“It sounds good, right? But the reality of the situation is, we need a boost in the federal workforce across the board; the budgets have been in steep decline, and what that means is they have fewer and fewer people,” Duncan said.

The infrastructure law does boost pay for wildland firefighters. It also gives agencies $200 million dollars to contract with third-party laborers to clear out underbrush and use it to create biochar, a type of soil.

Nevada prisons: 76% of corrections workers had vaccine shots
By The Associated Press

The latest numbers provided by the Nevada Department of Corrections show that 76% of the state’s corrections workers are either partially or fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The state’s mandate goes into effect this month. The latest numbers are a 12% increase since the last time the corrections department publicly released the data on Oct. 25. The department currently employs about 2,200 people, meaning over 200 initiated the vaccination process in the last four weeks. About 830 department employees were officially reprimanded on Nov. 2 for not complying with the policy. According to documents obtained by News 4-Fox 11, the letters of reprimand warned unvaccinated workers of “progressive disciplinary action” if they do not get inoculated.

International Basque festival in Idaho postponed until 2025
By Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau

Basque country is in an area of northern Spain and southwest France. Boise State University history professor John Bieter says many Basque people first came to the American West following the 1849 Gold Rush, working largely as sheep herders.

“Basques trailed the sheep, literally, California to Nevada and into Idaho,” Bieter said.

Every five years since 1990, the Jaialdi festival has been held in Boise. It brings Basque communities from around the Western U.S. and the world together to celebrate their heritage; however, it’s been postponed a few times during the pandemic, and it has now has been pushed to 2025.

The event can attract more than 30,000 people, according to organizers. They said this year’s decision was between limiting crowds for an event that’s meant to bring people together or postponing it. They chose the latter.

Bieter said he believes that was the right choice.

“It’s just the sadness of postponement and then the looking forward to the next opportunity,” he said.

California COVID: Good case numbers but surge threat remains
By The Associated Press

California now has one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in the country. But Gov. Gavin Newsom is still warning of a potential surge in cases this winter. Newsom said other states have seen increases in cases because people are lowering their guard. Newsom urged people to wear masks and get vaccinated on Monday during a visit to a vaccination clinic in San Francisco. California saw a deadly surge in coronavirus cases last winter. But that was before vaccines were available. Now more than 75% of Californians 5 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Organized thieves hit high-end Bay Area stores amid trend
By The Associated Press

Groups of thieves ransacked jewelry and high-end clothing stores throughout the San Francisco Bay Area over the weekend, shocking holiday shoppers and prompting concerns about the busy retail season. The mob attacks are believed to be part of sophisticated criminal networks that recruit mainly young people to steal merchandise then sell it in online marketplaces. Experts and officials say the thefts are happening nationwide and are ratcheting up as the holiday shopping season gets underway. Police promised to step up patrols in retail areas and Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state would provide additional resources to help cities and counties.

Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative.
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