Jeniffer Solis

(Nevada Current) Nevada is set to receive nearly $6 million in funding to prevent wildfires, a growing concern, as climate change and prolonged drought make the state even drier.

On Wednesday, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau announced Nevada would receive $5.9 million in funding this year from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support fuels management projects on nearly 15,000 acres of land across the state.

Nearly half of the wildfire management programs within Nevada are still in the planning phase, according to the department.

Funding allocated for Clark County, Nevada’s most populous county, will be used for Gold Butte habitat protection, critical habitat for the desert tortoise, and a sacred site to the Paiute people.

Other projects that will be funded in Nevada include restoration for Spruce Mountain in Elko County. In Lander County, funding will be used for roadside fuel breaks, a process that strips vegetation away near roads to prevent roadside sparks from becoming large wildfires.

Funding has also been set aside to protect communities in Pershing County at high risk of wildfires due to their proximity to wilderness. In some Nevada counties, up to 60% of houses are at risk of severe wildfires due to nearby wilderness or vegetative fuels, according to the U.S Fire Administration.

“You see communities getting closer to these areas and that puts houses and infrastructure at risk of wildfire,” said Beaudreau during a tour of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

The investments will protect homes and businesses near wilderness areas and public drinking water by increasing fuels treatment in areas with high wildfire hazard potential, Beaudreau said.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill includes $1.5 billion for Interior over the next five years to invest in preparedness, fuels management, post-fire restoration, and fire science. The bill also includes major reforms for federal wildland firefighters, including temporary pay increases.

“We’re seeing wildfire season turn into a more year-round challenge,” said Beaudreau. “That threatens communities, businesses, wildlife and some of these spectacular landscapes.”

Climate change has led to an increase in the area burned by wildfire in the West. Analyses estimate that the area burned by wildfire from 1984 to 2015 was twice what would have burned had climate change not occurred.

Extreme heat and drought have led to greater wildland fire danger across the United States, creating severe fast moving and intense wildfires previously unseen, say state wildfire managers.

“These are enormous challenges driven by changing climate and the encroachment of invasive species that have introduced wildfire to a landscape that has not evolved to handle fire,” Beaudreau said.

Invasive plant species, like the highly flammable cheatgrass, have spread across Nevada and new invasive species are appearing on an annual basis in Southern Nevada.

“The list keeps getting longer. It’s terrible,” Beaudreau said.

When burn sites are not treated or restored, invasive species take over the environment, reducing native plant populations and exacerbating fires.

The funding will pay for more staff and planning resources in Nevada and allow the state to strategically work on fire suppression projects over the next five years, Beaudreau said.

A portion of the funding will be used to continue the development of wildfire risk mapping and mitigation tools to help land managers identify potential wildfire risks and share mitigation techniques, a joint project by the Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters.

The Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture have also announced they would allocate $234 million dollars to develop a new wellness program to treat federal firefighters with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and minimize on the job exposure to environmental hazards.