The West has always been shaped by fire. It’s part of its ecology. But the mega-fires caused by climate change we have now are bigger and more destructive. They darken our skies with smoke, even from thousands of miles away. They destroy homes and businesses, displace wildlife, threaten water supplies, degrade landscapes and could cost taxpayers $ 20 billion this year.
As many lament, we no longer have a fire season, we have a fire year. This calendar year alone, more than 40,000 wildfires have burned more than 5 million acres – the equivalent of the state of Massachusetts – according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
The impacts that follow these devastating fires can continue to occur for years after the flames are out. Case in point: the catastrophic mudslides this summer in Colorado that followed last year’s fires. The debris closed Interstate 70 for more than two weeks, will cost more than $ 100 million to repair and have caused immense financial consequences for businesses affected by the disruption to trade.
As President BidenJoe BidenSunday Shows Sneak Peek: Coronavirus Dominates As Country Battles Delta Variant Has President Biden instituted a vaccine mandate for only half of the country’s teachers? Democrats look at vaccine mandates ahead of midterm MORE Noted this week in Boise, climate-related disasters are becoming more and more common, but we can mitigate the risk of wildfires and mudslides and help protect neighboring communities from their impacts while our leaders seek remedies. broader solutions to the climate crisis.
Fortunately, the senator Michel BennetMichael Farrand Bennet Interior Overthrows Trump, Moves BLM HQ to DC Conservation Says He Will Only Endorse Democrats Supporting .5T Spending Plan Lawmakers Cannot Reconcile Lower SALT Cap With Progressive Goals MORE (D-Colo.) Proposed legislation that would make the significant investments needed in our forests, rangelands and watersheds by encouraging partnerships between federal, state and tribal agencies. The House just included it in the budget reconciliation bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, which provides $ 40 billion to restore our forests, improve wildlife habitat, while creating millions. well-paid jobs in rural areas. There are also investments to restore the iconic grasslands and sagebrush steppe, which are increasingly overrun by cheatgrass which exacerbates drought and leads to catastrophic range fires.
The Build Back Better Act will not only make our forests and grasslands healthier and more resilient to wildfires, but will boost the recreation economy as access to and opportunities for hunting, fishing and other activities. outdoors will be expanded. By some estimates, for every dollar spent on catering, $ 15 will be generated in economic activity.
It’s also just smart tax policy. Investing in forest and watershed restoration saves landowners and local governments money, because when fires do occur, they are likely to be less catastrophic. This is exactly the kind of investment in resilience our communities need right now. As the President also noted, for every dollar we invest in natural resilience to better rebuild, we save $ 6 going forward.
Congress took an important first step in approving investments in traditional road and bridge infrastructure. Now is the time to invest in our natural infrastructure to prevent forest fires, mudslides and other impacts of climate change. We can’t wait any longer. Congress must pass the Build Back Better Act to protect our wildlife, our lands and waters, and our rural communities. Our children – and grandchildren – deserve nothing less.
Collin O’Mara is President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.