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Build Back Better Act would provide ‘historic commitment’ to wildfire mitigation funding

The U. S. House of Representatives just passed President Biden’s massive $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act. While the bill would fund lots of programs, it includes unprecedented investments in wildfire mitigation and forest restoration.

More than $10 billion would be spent reducing fuels around communities in wildfire zones. $3 billion would pay for tree planting grants. Another $9 billion would pay for forest restoration and resilience grants.

Millions more would be spent on volunteer fire assistance programs, a Civilian Climate Corps, and reforestation of burned areas.

“In our view, the $27.7 billion investment in science-driven, ecologically based forest and fire management is an historic commitment that should be enacted into law,” reads a letter signed by more than 100 forest and fire scientists and researchers that was sent to Democratic congressional leaders this month urging them to pass the bill.

The signatories, mostly from Western states impacted by wildfires, included Chris Adlam, a regional fire specialist with Oregon State University extension in southwest Oregon. He says the bill’s funding would improve ecological integrity of forests while reducing wildfire risks.

“This is not a logging project. This is not fuels-reduction at the expense of ecology,” Adlam says. “This is very much focused on forest restoration and ecological improvements, as well as risk reduction.”

He says the big price tag over the next decade shows how much it will cost to address wildfire danger and risk to communities across the West.

“It really recognizes the urgency and the scale of the problem,” he says, “which is going to require massive investment if we are going to properly steward public lands in particular, but all lands in a responsible way going into this future of climate change.”

The House approved President Biden’s policy package along near-party lines Friday morning. It now goes to the Senate, where it's expected to undergo significant changes.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.