Federal agencies last year reduced the likelihood of wildfires on 5.4 million acres of federal land, far exceeding the wildfire fuel reduction goal that President Donald Trump set in a 2018 executive order.
Fuels reduction is seen as an increasingly important tool in wildfire management as fire impact grows in the West.
Executive Order 1385 directed the U.S. Forest Service in fiscal 2019 to treat 3.5 million acres to reduce fuel loads and the Department of the Interior to treat 750,000 acres.
The Forest Service on Dec. 19 said it improved conditions and reduced risk on more than 4 million acres. Interior announced Jan. 8 that it reduced fire fuel on more than 1.4 million acres, the highest total in a decade.
The Forest Service said timber harvest more than tripled from shared-stewardship projects under Good Neighbor Authority shared-stewardship projects. Interior said the amount of timber it planned to harvest or sell as part of fuel-reduction efforts was 25% above its target.
National Interagency Fire Center spokeswoman Jessica Gardetto of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said the agency met its goals thanks to steady funding for fuels programs and employees, and to partnerships with other organizations such as state and local agencies and nonprofits.
“This also means that fuels projects are more important than ever,” she said. “With wildland fire seasons becoming longer and more intense on average, fuel projects provide safe locations for firefighters to suppress wildfires. They assist with home and community protection, and combat invasive weeds that are exacerbating the current fire situation.”
Gardetto said continued funding is important because fuels projects often require years of planning, and involve working with National Environmental Policy Act and other regulations.
“With steady fuels budgets, we’re able to plan for project implementation several years ahead,” she said.
Last year, 48,484 wildfires burned 4.57 million acres, down from more than 52,000 fires burning 8.5 million acres in 2018.
The 10-year annual average has been about 60,000 fires burning 8.5 million acres of federal, state, tribal and private land.
Interior agencies with wildfire programs are BLM, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.