The U.S. Forest Service spent more consecutive days this summer at the agency’s highest level of preparedness than in any previous year. (Photo by Roger Ottmar/USDA Forest Service)
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden met virtually with governors from Western and Midwestern states on Friday to discuss how federal intervention can best aid states battling wildfires, amid complaints from states about federal forest management.
“We’ve got big, complex wildfires burning across multiple areas,” Biden said. “We’re in for a long fight this year, and the only way to meet those challenges is by working together.”
There are currently 83 large fires across 13 states that have burned more than 1.7 million acres of land, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, a government agency that serves as a support center for wildland fires and other emergency situations. Those states include Idaho, Montana, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Wyoming, California, Arizona, Nevada, South Dakota, Colorado, Utah and Minnesota.
The governors in the briefing were Republicans Greg Gianforte of Montana, Brad Little of Idaho and Mark Gordon of Wyoming, and Democrats Tim Walz of Minnesota, Jay Inslee of Washington, Kate Brown of Oregon and Gavin Newsom of California.
During the briefing, Gianforte told Biden that Montana has spent $13 million since July 1 to fight wildfires and that local communities have been devastated, according to a pool report. Gianforte told the president that the federal government needed to do a better job of clearing out dead trees.
“It’s a tinderbox situation,” Gianforte said, adding that forests do not have good stewardship.
Biden agreed and added that the upcoming infrastructure bill would help Western states battle wildfires. He said there were also climate change provisions to help prevent many of the fires by clearing dead trees from forests and boosting personnel to help fight the fires.
“There is a lot of money in here to help you manage the fires,” he said.
Biden also suggested for states and county leaders to continue partnering with FEMA, as the agency approved 20 forest management assistant grants totaling $100 million to help states pay for the cost of fighting fires.
He added that the administration was also working with FEMA and the Defense Logistics Agency to get ahead of emergency supply chain issues that have been disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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