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Biden Discusses Wildfire Impacts, Response With Western Governors

The Snake River Complex Idaho burning in Idaho is comprised of wildfires that merged together.
The Snake River Complex fire burning in Idaho is comprised of three wildfires that merged together.

News Brief

As western states battle thousands of acres of wildfires that are degrading air quality across the country, President Biden acknowledged a reality for many living in the Mountain West: the profound costs of fighting fires.

"We’ve got big, complex wildfires burning across multiple areas," Biden told a group of western governors. "And despite the incredible — and I’m not — this is not being solicitous — the incredible bravery and heroism of our firefighters, our resources are already being stretched to keep up. We need more help, particularly when we also factor in the additional nationwide challenges of pandemic-related supply chain disruptions and our ongoing efforts to fight COVID."

Biden said his infrastructure plan could provide some needed relief in the coming months.

“It includes billions of dollars to strengthen wildfire preparedness, resilience and response. It includes funding for prevention efforts like forest management and to restore millions of acres of high-risk areas to protect homes and public water sources for drinking,” the president said.

This year’s intense fire season highlights “the necessity to successfully confront climate change,” he added.

Biden’s nearly $1 trillion infrastructure plan cleared a key vote July 30 and continues to move through the U.S. Senate.

State leaders, meanwhile, told Biden they want to see a shift among federal agencies in terms of year-round mitigation and faster response times.

“We ask that our federal partners join us in doing what needs to be done year-round to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires,” said Gov. Greg Gianforte of Montana, where 19 large-scale wildfires are burning.

Among Montana’s nine million acres at high risk for wildfire, 60 percent are on federal land, Gianforte said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the U.S. Forest Service employs a “wait-and-see” approach. The Tamarack Fire that ignited along the California-Nevada border spread to Nevada because the agency waited too long to initiate a response, he said.

“Greg was making an oblique point here," Newsom said. "I want to be a little bit more explicit. We need your help to change the culture in terms of the suppression strategies in this climate, literally and figuratively, to be more aggressive on these federal fires."

It was the president's second call in as many months with western governors to discuss wildfires scorching the region. Since the first meeting, "the number of large, uncontained wildfires has nearly doubled to 66," Biden said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I wear many hats in KUNC's newsroom as an executive producer, editor and reporter. My work focuses on inequality, the systems of power that entrench it, and the people who are disproportionately affected. I help reporters in my newsroom to also uncover these angles and elevate unheard voices in the process.