Wildfires this year are burning acreage at a rate on par with last year’s historic fire season, during which the federal government spent a record $2.9 billion on fire suppression, according to U.S. Forest Service (USFS) interim chief Victoria Christiansen.
Christiansen sat before the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands, a part of the Committee on Natural Resources, Thursday afternoon. The hearing focused on the priorities of the USFS in the upcoming year and how recent changes to the structure of firefighting funding would affect forest management.
“Early predictions indicate that 2018 will likely be another challenging wildfire year,” Christiansen said in her testimony. “To date, about 1.7 million acres have burned, mostly in the South, Southwest and Rocky Mountain regions; this number is on trend with the number of acres burned last year at this time.”
Last year, wildfires tore through the West, destroying roughly 12,300 homes and killing dozens of people, including 14 firefighters. (RELATED: Wildfires Raging In California Are The Deadliest The State Has Ever Seen)
The USFS has stepped up preventative measures to stop the most devastating wildfires before they happen. The agency in 2018 intends to treat and clear more than a third more vegetation and harvest 30 percent more timber than last year to prevent the build-up of wildfire fuel, according to Christiansen.
The efforts may not hold off another historic fire season, however. The USFS is cleaning up about 3 million acres of about 193 million acres overall managed by the agency. Across the U.S. on lands the USFS manages, 80 million acres are at moderate risk of wildfire and another 50 million acres are at extreme risk, Christiansen said during her testimony.
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