Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed his department’s management at every level to focus on fuel reduction and fire prevention while record-setting wildfires scorch the western United States.
The new strategy breaks from the Department of Interior’s (DOI) decades-long focus on firefighting, not prevention, a tactic that has led to more intense and destructive fires, Zinke said Tuesday in a department wide memo.
“This Administration will take a serious turn from the past and will proactively work to prevent forest fires through aggressive and scientific fuels reduction management to save lives, homes, and wildlife habitat,” Zinke wrote.
This year alone, at least 47,000 wildfires have burned more than 8 million acres across the U.S., according to the DOI.
“The national situation is there are so many fires and so many incidents going on that there are extremely limited resources,” Montana fire team spokesman Martin Balukas told the Billings Gazette. “Right now, we have enough to be operationally effective. I don’t mean to imply that firefighting resources are being jeopardized, but we’re in the unusual situation of relying on county and local resources for much longer than is ordinary.”
The U.S. Forest Service hit a landmark in 2015 for spending more than half of its budget on fighting fires for the first time in its 110-year existence. The cost of fire suppression and the amount of acres burned nationwide are expected to grow if no significant change in action is taken, the Department of Agriculture said at the time.
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