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The obstacles to mitigating Forest Fires In Wyoming

How logging, forest thinning, fire suppression and cutbacks effect our fire season
Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 10:13 PM CDT
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - As forest fires have topped headlines recently, we look into what factors have contributed to the fire season we’ve seen.

While Wyoming has been relatively lucky when it comes to our fire season, other states have not, with the catastrophic fires we have seen this last year in the west.

Managing forest fuels previously was done through logging or forest thinning, which is currently relevant but causing industrialists and environmentalists to butt heads.

As a result, several bills have been drafted to help forest management and restoration.

“Building resilient communities, we know what has to be done... we call them fire-safe or fire-wise. There are lots of different programs out there, by making communities resilient. As far as managing the forest... and the prairie lands, that’s the piece that we really, in my opinion, need to focus on and looking at better ways to be doing that, “said Bill Crapser, Wyoming State Forester.

Bills like U.S. Senator Cynthia Lummis’s "Catastrophe" bill, U.S. Senator John Barrasso’s "ARC" bill, or the "Resilient Federal Forest Act" backed by U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, a former Forester help navigate the funding and political red tape.

Yet focus on federal lands where most fires are concentrated while managing drastic cutbacks has had adverse effects.

“Changes in federal land policy over the years, we’ve doing less logging, but we’re still doing fire suppression. So we have a lot of forests that is overgrown, overstocked forest that needs management,” said Crapser.

The available grant funding for fire mitigation is highly competitive and divided between regional states.

Private landowners can also access funding to get assistance to pay for clearing fuel sources around their properties.

"I try to secure grant funding, so we can help reduce the burden on landowners from having to pay out of their own pockets. We typically try and do a cost-share where landowners are not having to fund the entire project themselves. Where we can help put some money towards the work on the ground. Help pay for contractors, reimburse landowners from doing the work themselves. But securing the funding is the biggest thing and just outreach and contacting landowner that may not know that these programs are available and that this funding may be available to them,” said Nick Zaczek, Senior Resource Forester Fuels, Wyoming State Forestry Division.

Officials add limited time frames to use grant funds, limited staff and contractors to do the work, and weather factors into how much they can prepare the forest for the following fire season.

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