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‘State of emergency’ in drought-hit U.S. forests

The government needs to quicken the pace of its fuel reduction work in public forests at the same time that it marshals enough crews to fight wildfires, said Forest Service chief Randy Moore at a House hearing on Wednesday. “The sobering takeaway: America’s forests are in a state of emergency, and it’s time to treat them like one.”

Some 63 million acres, or about a third of national forest land, is rated “at high or very high hazard for wildfires that would be difficult to contain,” he said. “This is in part a result of 110 years of overly aggressive fire suppression policies as well as climate change.” Hundreds of communities are at high risk, said Moore. “To reduce this risk, there is a need to significantly scale up hazardous fuel reduction treatments across landscapes and in partnership with communities in the most at-risk places.”

So far this year, nearly 46,000 wildfires have burned 5.9 million acres and more than 4,500 homes, commercial properties, and outbuildings.

“We must ensure a stable, resilient firefighting force,” said Moore, who said the pay scale was often too low. “We are in a constant mode of training new employees.” The Biden administration announced a 10% pay bonus for many of its full-time firefighters earlier this year as well as steps to make sure permanent and temporary firefighters earn at least $15 an hour.

The Forest Service carries out fuel reduction treatments on roughly 3 million acres a year.

To read Moore’s written testimony, click here.

For a video archive of the hearing, click here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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