US allocates $930m for forest thinning in fire-stricken west

The United States government has announced it will spend about $930m to fund forest-thinning operations in western states struggling to cope with explosive wildfire

seasons. The funds will help finance projects to clear trees and excessive underbrush in fire-prone areas of 10 western states, where blazes have consumed nearly 300,000

square kilometres (115,000 sq miles) and burned about 80,000 structures over the last decade. “It’s not a matter of whether or not these forests will burn,” US Secretary of

Agriculture Tom Vilsack told reporters. “The crisis is upon us.” The allocation of such funds represents a growing emphasis on the need for projects that can mitigate the

intensity and dangers posed by wildfires. While wildfire is a natural and even healthy part of the ecosystem, a number of factors have come together to create wildfire

seasons that have exploded in size and intensity over the last several decades. Those factors include rising temperatures and drought that have dried out trees and foliage,

partly due to climate change. Insect outbreaks have also killed millions of trees, leaving forest floors packed with dry kindling that helps fuel massive conflagrations.

Experts point to another factor – older approaches to forest management that emphasise suppressing fires as soon as they break out. Decades of fire suppression efforts have

left many forests overgrown and densely packed with easily combustible plant matter. In an effort to address that issue, firefighter groups and scientists have called for

a greater emphasis on the kind of mitigation projects the $930m will help finance.