DENVER — The federal government has deemed wildfire risks in the West to be under crisis proportions, and the Biden administration is now calling for swift action to protect people and communities in Colorado and beyond.
On Tuesday, administration officials shared details of the $50 billion initiative. Subsequently, the USDA Forest Service released a 25-page report sharing the plan's details.
Frank Beum, a regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region of the USDA Forest Service, explained how the plan will unfold in Colorado.
"We know that our forests are in a state where we've got to do something," he said. "We've attempted to do work over the past decades to treat this problem but we've seen overgrown forest, we've seen changing climate, we've seen historic drought, and we've seen really aggressive fire suppression over the last 100 years that have led us to this crisis."
Currently, the initiative is only partially funded. The federal infrastructure bill that recently passed will provide about $3 billion in immediate funds to begin work out West.
As detailed in the USDA report, primary goals include: treat up to an additional 20 million acres of National Forest System lands; treat an additional 30 million acres of other federal, state, tribal and private lands; and develop a plan for long-term maintenance.
"Right now, we're looking at the Front Range of Colorado as one of the four areas initially under the 10 year, wildfire crisis strategy that we'll focus on because it has one of the highest concentrations of high risk fire sheds within the nation," Beum said.
Coloradans can expect the agency to begin doing prescribed burns this year, and tree thinning could soon follow, according to Beum.
"It will actually reduce the ability for that fire to carry through the area that we've done a prescribed burning," he said.
Beum said an example of the benefits of prescribed burns can be seen in the 2018 Buffalo Fire that sparked in the White River National Forest
"The flames stopped short of nearly 1,400 residences, protecting those homes from the effects of those fires," Beum said. "I've seen the success of the work we can do when we do the treatments in the right place at the right scale."