Drawing on funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that $1 billion is now being offered through the Community Wildfire Defense Grant program to assist at-risk communities.
“Insight and guidance from the communities most at risk for catastrophic wildfires helps us mitigate those risks more effectively,” Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said. “We need a collaborative effort at all levels to ensure the success of this critical national effort.”
This new program will provide competitive grants for the next five years, using federal funds to support the planning and mitigation of wildfire risks. Tribal communities, non-profit organizations, state forestry agencies, and Alaska Native corporations will all be able to apply soon for individual grants of up to $250,000 to create and update community wildfire protection plans or conduct outreach and education. They will also be able to apply for up to $10 million for associated infrastructure and resilience project support.
Such investments are more critical now than ever, as the USDA called attention to the effects of climate change and other shifting patterns. The department specifically noted that such effects have transformed old fire seasons into years of ongoing, destructive flames.
“These investments are crucial to tackling the wildfire crisis, climate change, and public safety,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is giving us new resources and tools to invest in communities in the areas where they live and the forests they value.”
To be eligible, projects must be completed within five years of being awarded funding. In particular, local and Tribal governments were encouraged by the USDA to undertake planning exercises to assist their communities with wildfire preparedness, response, and adaptation efforts. The number of selected projects will have some wiggle room, though, based on the available funding – $200 million annually. Communities with high or very high wildfire hazard potential, low income, or which have been hit by severe disasters will take priority for grant awards.
The grant effort is based on legislation championed by Vice President Kamala Harris during her time in the Senate.