Cantwell Heralds Wildfire Response and Recovery Investments in Infrastructure Package

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) released the following statement about the significant investment in wildfire response and recovery efforts that were included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). (A full description of the infrastructure bill’s impacts on Washington state can be found here.)

“It is so critical that money was included in the infrastructure package to help reduce fire risks because that's something that's going to plague us into the future. This infrastructure package helps reduce fire risk by doing things like mechanical thinning, controlled burns and collaboratives so that we can help try to prevent fires from starting, or having them gain so much fuel,” said Senator Cantwell.

The IIJA includes the following funding to support wildfire fighting and recovery efforts (all numbers are over 5 years):

  • Wildfire Risk Reduction: Senator Cantwell helped secure this funding which provides $3.4 billion to both the Department of Interior (DOI) and the Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to support a variety of wildland fire fighting efforts, like funding for community wildfire defense grants, mechanical thinning, controlled burns, the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program, and firefighting resources.
  • Hazardous Fuels: Reduction of hazardous fuels generally requires the removing surface and “ladder” fuels like brush, small trees, and other vegetation that when accumulated can cause fires to burn hotter and grow faster. $1.138 billion in total funding for hazardous fuel reduction has been included in the bill.
    • $35.6 million for DOI to carry out hazardous fuels reduction projects, including $10 million for Tribal Forestry Protection Act projects
    • $102.8 million for USFS to carry out hazardous fuels reduction projects, with $40 million for Tribal Forestry Protection Act projects
    • $1 billion for USFS to carry out State and Private Forestry grants for hazardous fuels work.
  • Burned Area Rehabilitation Programs: When fires burn so hot that they destroy a landscape beyond what can be naturally tolerated, some environments become unlikely to recover without human assistance. These programs repair or improve such landscapes.  $500 million in funding for these programs has been included.
    • $225 million over 5 years for DOI to carry out burned area rehabilitation
    • $225 million over 5 years for USFS to carry out burned area rehabilitation
  • NOAA Fire Weather: This investment will support the further expansion and development of NOAA’s fire weather activities through the upgrade and replacement of data collection systems, enhanced modeling for better forecasts and hazard prediction, and improved tools that support land management agencies and emergency managers. $100 million in funding has been included for this program.
  • NOAA High Performance Computing (HPC): This funding will allow NOAA to increase computing capacity for forecasts and drought. In the next five years, NOAA will require more than 32-times the processing power than it has today, in large part to meet the increasing need for climate-related modeling (such as drought and precipitation), prediction, and forecast needs which have a direct impact on American lives and property. This will directly benefit Washington and other western states that are experiencing more extreme drought conditions, which in turn produce worsening fire seasons. $80 million in funding has been included for this program.
  • Grid Infrastructure and Reliability: The legislation makes historic investments to make our nation's electricity grid more reliable, resilient, and able to integrate renewable energy sources to stand up to increasingly frequent and intense weather events. This includes $5 billion to establish a new DOE grant program to support activities that reduce the likelihood and impacts to the electric grid due to extreme weather, wildfire, and natural disaster and includes wildfires in the eligibility for the Stafford Act hazard mitigation program.

Senator Cantwell has long championed funding and programs to prevent, combat and respond to wildfires. Earlier this week, Cantwell joined her colleagues in a letter to press the administration to address the jet fuel shortages undercutting the firefighting efforts. In the energy and natural resources infrastructure package approved in July by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Senator Cantwell supported additional funding to address the growing risk of devastating wildfires.

In late 2020 and early 2021, Cantwell repeatedly called for an official disaster declaration to allow communities in Washington to receive disaster relief from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to help recover from the devastating wildfire season in 2020. Last October, Cantwell also joined her senate colleagues in sending a letter to the National Guard Bureau requesting a report on its readiness to help states prevent and fight wildfires, address current needs, and utilize all available resources in response to longer, more extreme wildfire seasons. In September 2020, Senator Cantwell introduced legislation to support pre-fire season controlled burns.

According to the USFS, 3.1 million acres of USFS land within Washington state are at high or very high risk of wildfires that are difficult to contain. That figure jumps to 7 million acres at high or very high risk of wildfires that are difficult to contain when calculated across all forest land in Washington state.

The 2021 wildfire season has been one of the worst in more than two decades. According to the most recent Incident Management Situation Report from the National Interagency Coordination Center, this year's wildfires have already burned 3,821,173 acres throughout the United States. The fires have killed dozens of Americans, destroyed thousands of structures, and displaced thousands. As of today, there have been 964 wildfires in Washington state this year alone, which is almost triple the ten-year average.

A full description of the infrastructure bill’s impacts on Washington state can be found HERE.

The full text of the infrastructure package is available HERE.