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Confronting the Wildfire Crisis

Cover page of FS-1187g, Wildfire Crisis, February 2024 publication on top of a map of the Northwestern United States.

In January 2022, the Forest Service launched a robust, 10-year strategy to address the wildfire crisis in the places where it poses the most immediate threats to communities. The strategy, called “Confronting the Wildfire Crisis: A Strategy for Protecting Communities and Improving Resilience in America’s Forests,” (leer en español) combines a historic investment of congressional funding with years of scientific research and planning into a national effort that will dramatically increase the scale and pace of forest health treatments over the next decade. Through the strategy, the agency will work with states, Tribes and other partners to addresses wildfire risks to critical infrastructure, protect communities, and make forests more resilient.

In early 2023, the USDA Forest Service added 11 additional landscapes. This announcement followed a year of progress in collaborating with partners across 10 initial landscapes to address wildfire risk to infrastructure and communities.

Year 3 – 2024 – nearly $500 million investment expands critical work to reduce wildfire risk.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on February 20, 2024 that the United States Department of Agriculture is investing nearly $500 million to expand work on the USDA Forest Service's Wildfire Crisis Strategy to reduce wildfire risk to communities, critical infrastructure and natural resources from the nation’s wildfire crisis.

Approximately $400 million of the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds will be allocated to ongoing efforts on the 21 priority landscapes across the West. This work is beginning to reduce wildfire risk for some 550 communities, 2,500 miles of power lines and 1,800 watersheds.

An additional $100 million will be allocated through a collaborative process with tribes, communities, and partners as part of new agency-established program – the Collaborative Wildfire Risk Reduction Program. Inspired by past examples and the success of programs such as the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, the new Collaborative Wildfire Risk Reduction Program expands work in high-risk wildfire areas outside the 21 priority landscapes.

These landscapes and efforts to expand the work under the Wildfire Crisis Strategy are determined using scientific research and analysis that considers the likelihood that an ignition could expose homes, communities, infrastructure, and natural resources to wildfire.

In 2023, the Forest Service and a wide-range of partners, communities, and tribes treated more than 4.3 million acres of hazardous fuels, including nearly two million acres of prescribed burning, on National Forest System lands across the nation - both are record highs in the agency’s 119-year history and over a million acres more accomplished than the previous year.


Landscape Accomplishments for 2024 graphic

News and Announcements:

Implementing the Wildfire Crisis Strategy

From the Chief's Desk

Wildfires have been growing in size, duration, and destructivity. Growing wildfire risk is due to accumulating fuels, a warming climate, and expanding development in the wildland-urban interface. The risk has reached crisis proportions, calling for decisive action to protect people and communities while improving forest health and resilience. The Forest Service, together with tribes and partners, developed a Wildfire Crisis Strategy to focus on strategic fuels and forest health treatments at the scale of the problem, using the best available knowledge and science as the guide. This video series focuses on several aspects of how the Forest Service is confronting the wildfire crisis.

Coming Together to Address the Wildfire Crisis

A wildland firefighter using a drip-torch to start a controlled fire in a forest while smoke and fire obscure the background.

Though the Forest Service has been working to manage the health of millions of acres of national forests across the American West for decades, the scale, pace and methods of work on the ground have not matched the need. With the support of our partners, states, Tribes and local communities, the Forest Service is collaboratively implementing this new strategy across jurisdictions and landownerships to protect communities, critical infrastructure, watersheds, habitats, and recreational areas.

Overgrown forests, a warming climate, and a growing number of homes in the wildland-urban interface, following more than a century of rigorous fire suppression, have all contributed to what is now a full-blown wildfire and forest health crisis. 

A wildland fire controlled burn fire starter held by a firefighter in one hand and the handle of a tool in the other. Text shows "WHAT'S NEW FOR YEAR TWO?", "11 NEW LANDSCAPES", "EMERGENCY AUTHORITIES", "EXPANDED FUNDING"

The Forest Service is working with partners to focus fuels and forest health treatments more strategically and at the scale of the problem, using the best available science as a guide. Through investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, wildfire risk reduction work will occur on 21 landscapes across 134 firesheds in the western U.S. where projects are ready to begin or to expand.

Wildfire Crisis Strategy Roundtables

Graphic with four sections reading, "Share information, goals, and timelines for the Wildfire Crisis Strategy". "Collect input to inform the implementation of the Strategy". "Identify key needs and opportunities associated with that implementation". "Gage ongoing levels of interest and determine ways to leverage that interest and energy".

Reshaping Business as Usual

In 2022, the Forest Service partnered with the National Forest Foundation and the Intertribal Timber Council to host a series of virtual roundtable discussions with employees, partners, and Tribal leaders and staff. The goals of these roundtables were to 1) share information, goals, and timelines for the Wildfire Crisis Strategy; 2) collect input to inform the implementation of the Strategy; 3) identify key needs and opportunities associated with that implementation; and 4) gauge ongoing levels of interest and determine ways to leverage that interest and energy.

The National Forest Foundation and Intertribal Timber Council published reports on these engagements, including overarching themes from discussions and opportunities for action. The Forest Service has acted upon many of these recommendations and ideas—either wholly or in part. The following showcases just some of the advances the agency has made in response to this important feedback.

The Forest Service is Showing Up Differently

  • Established new two-way communication across agency program areas to increase intra-agency coordination and bring a whole-of-agency approach to this work.

  • Increasing landscape workforce through a focus on outreach, recruitment, hiring, and retention with the establishment of new hiring authorities that allow for a streamlined review and reduction in requirements for applicants to qualify. Additionally, most of the Wildfire Crisis Strategy landscapes have either hired a fire ecologist to support implementation and planning efforts or are heavily leaning into regional expertise.

  • Restructuring Fire & Aviation Management positions in conjunction with the Department of the Interior to account for existing and evolving needs in wildland and prescribed fire. In addition to these prescribed fire modules, the Forest Service is also pushing to move some prescribed fire training to western venues (traditionally in the southeast) to allow more non-federal employees the opportunity to attend. More information is available in the Prescribed Fire Training Center-West strategy.

  • Exploring affordable housing projects for employees including an innovative pilot project in the White River National Forest leasing land to the local county for development of up to 177 workforce housing units, paving the way for the Forest Service to partner with local communities and find solutions to workforce housing using all available authorities.

  • Implementing a collaborative communication strategy to build awareness of and support for wildfire risk reduction efforts using partner messengers, social media campaigns, and coordination across federal agencies to align messaging, amplify stories and help the public understand efforts to implement the Wildfire Crisis Strategy.

  • Centering and prioritizing research efforts to meet the needs of the Wildfire Crisis Strategy through an innovative proposal process resulting in more direct support for research needs of the Wildfire Crisis Strategy landscapes and agency response to implementing the strategy.

  • Launched a series of “keystone” partner agreements to add capacity, reduce administrative burden, and quickly implement priority projects. These agreements are structured to efficiently provide funding and capacity to Wildfire Crisis Strategy landscapes and other national forests in implementing the Wildfire Crisis Strategy.

  • Working with the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to develop a playbook for all-lands wildfire risk reduction. This effort included an all-lands workshop that brought together practitioners from federal agencies, state organizations, communities, and non-governmental organizations and work is ongoing to complete this playbook and provide the resource to communities.

  • Changing match and cash contribution policies in agreements to more holistically consider values that partners bring to agreements as match contributions, including waiving match requirements or increasing flexibility for Tribal Nations and agreements serving underserved communities.

  • Partnering with the National Forest Foundation through an agreement focused on Collaboration Skill Building and Cooperative Environmental Education to work with communities to grow collaborative capacity in support of Forest Service priority restoration work and develop and distribute cooperative educational resources.

  • Held joint trainings and engagement sessions on the Tribal Forest Protection Act for Forest Service line officers.

  • Undertaking actions to implement “Strengthening Tribal Consultations and Nation-to-Nation Relationships: A USDA Forest Service Action Plan” throughout the agency and in Wildfire Crisis Strategy landscapes such as identifying opportunities for co-stewardship, expanding planning guidance, increasing Tribal access to natural and cultural resources within national forests and grasslands, supporting Indigenous knowledge through participatory research on topics of joint interest, and establishing a sub-directorate for Co-Stewardship within the Forest Service Office of Tribal Relations.

  • Piloted implementation of the National Prescribed Fire Resource Mobilization Strategy to align prescribed fire implementation and support coordination agency-wide. The strategy uses fire suppression concepts, processes, and procedures to supplement and prioritize prescribed fire in the Wildfire Crisis Strategy landscapes. It also outlines a scalable management organization, in the form of regional prescribed fire implementation teams, sized to match the scope of projects.

  • Working through the National Wildfire Coordinating Group to coordinate prescribed fire training and experience standards to facilitate non-federal entity involvement in prescribed fire operations.

  • Hosted a series of regional and national industry-specific roundtables to center on additional industry opportunities around the Wildfire Crisis Strategy.

  • Expanded existing and created new wood innovation grant programs, resulting in millions of dollars invested in expanded research, new markets, and supporting infrastructure.

  • Launched the Timber Transit Pilot in June 2023 to address the challenge of moving forest products further than traditional distances to processing locations to keep the forest products industry viable and provide critical treatments to landscapes. At a minimum, this pilot will result in the transportation of 40,000 bone dry tons of non-marketable biomass.

  • Coordinating with FEMA to discuss cross-over opportunities between proactive wildfire risk reduction and post-disaster recovery and relief.

  • Collaborating with the EPA to provide 14,000 additional air sensors to quantify effects of smoke and air quality in real time and expand evaluation of Community Wildfire Protection Plans to include an analysis of smoke to help communities move towards resilience and engaging with the Wildland Fire Leadership Council in a joint effort with the EPA and CDC to study air quality and human health impacts of smoke from prescribed fires and wildfires.

  • Continue to support AirNow Fire and Smoke Map to provide transparent information about the impacts of smoke.

  • Incorporated new equity and social science data into the Fireshed Analysis and implementation of the Wildfire Crisis Strategy.

  • Developed new public dashboards for sharing real-time data in transparent and meaningful ways.

  • Established guidance for Forest Service employees to build partnerships and increase communications with disadvantaged and socially vulnerable communities using social science data.

  • Partnered with the Intertribal Timber Council on a workforce capacity dialogue series, which identified action areas and needed policy changes to promote Tribal workforce capacity.

  • Recruiting from organizations such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities and 1890 Schools, Hispanic Serving Institutions, the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership, and National Tribal Institutions in support of this work.

  • Launched the Collaborative Wildfire Risk Reduction Program to invest Inflation Reduction Act funds through a competitive internal process that seeks to expand work outside of the 21 Wildfire Crisis Strategy Landscapes and focus on non-traditional partners that represent underserved and minority-based communities to help with project implementation.