DENVER — Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau visited the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge to announce the first allocation in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for 2023 to support wildland fire management.
This allotment totals $228 million nationwide. Of that, $7 million will go to Colorado in fiscal year 2023.
This newly announced funding is the first of several allocations that will support multiple aspects of wildfire management, including:
- Pay increases for federal firefighters
- New training opportunities
- Fuels management work to reduce fire risk
- Burned area rehabilitation to help speed recovery after fires
- Increased funding for science that will examine the impacts of climate change on fire management
Deputy Secretary Beaudreau and Gov. Jared Polis both spoke at the arsenal on Wednesday as part of the announcement. Polis said the $7 million in Colorado is expected to fund 52 new projects, which will include getting kids outside on the landscape, working in and protecting communities, and learning about stewardship of the land. The details on those projects will be released at a later time, Polis said.
"You know, in the west, fires are an unfortunate reality," Polis said. "And over the years with a hotter, drier climate, we've seen a longer fire season. In fact, we're approaching the one-year anniversary of the most destructive fire in the history of our state — the Marshall Fire from Boulder County. We also had the three largest wildfires in the history of our state in the summer of 2020."
That means the state's preparation and response capacity needs to be stronger than ever, he said.
Colorado is well into this process, having purchased a Fire Hawk helicopter, leased tanker capacities, and supported local fire response efforts, he continued.
"Every resource we put toward preventing fires and containing fires is important," Polis said. "Of the 541,732 acres burned in the three largest fires in the history of our state that I mentioned in 2020, 455,000 of those were federal land. That's about 80%. So that shows the importance of partnering with the federal government in Colorado."
This new funding will support the next generation of wildland fire managers and broader conservation efforts, he said.
He acknowledged that in 2022, Colorado avoided large fires like those seen in previous years, "but it's not a matter of if, it's simply a matter of when" they will be back.
"The people of Colorado need to know there will be another significant fire risk season, and we want to be more ready than ever before, for whatever nature will throw at us. Our partnership with the federal government is a key part of that, and we look forward to this collaborative work," Polis said.
Deputy Secretary Beaudreau said the Department of the Interior "has no greater partner in conservation and stewardship of our public lands" than Colorado and Polis.
"Part of what we're working through is the historic investments provided to us by the bipartisan infrastructure law, championed by your federal representatives in Congress — including Bennett and Hickenlooper — and the congressional delegation to provide the federal family, USDA, Interior Department, and others with the resources necessary to face these threats," he said. "And that includes thinking about wildfire in a new way."
He said the focus will always remain on suppression, especially with the wildland urban interface in Colorado.
"But a truly strategic and sophisticated and needed approach to wildland fire is to think about the entire cycle," he continued. "And that includes treatment upfront — the work that the governor described — that we're investing in to do, prescribed burns to do treatments, to get young people out on the landscape, dealing with invasive species like cheatgrass, which fuel fires, in order to prevent them and to mitigate on the front end... And we'll deal with suppression, but on the back end, burned area recovery is incredibly important too."
Over five years, the Department of the Interior will invest $1.5 billion nationwide to improve firefighter pay and help communities threatened by wildfires. Of that, $878 million will go to hazardous fuels management, $325 million is for post-fire restoration and rehabilitation activities, $245 million is for investments in wildfire preparedness, and $10 million will support science and research, according to the department.
“In Colorado and across the West, communities are feeling the effects of the climate crisis in the form of worsening drought and severe wildland fires," Beaudreau said. "With funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Interior Department is bringing much-needed support to increase the resilience of lands facing the threat of wildland fires and better support federal wildland firefighters. These resources are vital to prevent future fires, rehabilitate burned areas and properly equip our brave firefighters on the frontlines.”
In 2022, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided $180 million to support wildfire management programs.