WHITE HOUSE – Western US states prone to forest fires and drought in extreme heat will see more federal government aid, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday during a virtual meeting with governors.
âClimate change is driving the dangerous combination of extreme heat and prolonged drought. We’re seeing wildfires of greater intensity and moving faster, âBiden said in the South Auditorium of the White House along with other senior officials from his administration, including Vice President Kamala Harris and five cabinet members in attendance.
Biden said federal fire fighters would raise their minimum wages and stay on the job as long as necessary beyond the traditional forest fire season.
Because of climate change, fighting forest fires is âno longer a seasonal job. This is a year-round mission, âsaid the president.
Biden and other administrators spoke from the White House, with governors joining on video.
Attendees included Democratic Governors Gavin Newsom of California, Jared Polis of Colorado, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Steve Sisolak of Nevada, Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington, and Republican Governors Spencer Cox of Utah and Mark Gordon from Wyoming.
Not in the group were three other Republican governors from the region: Doug Ducey from Arizona, Brad Little from Idaho and Greg Gianforte from Montana.
Gianforte was “disappointed to learn in news reports” that the president “has not offered a seat to Montana and other states facing a severe forest fire season,” he said in a previous tweet.
Only part of Wednesday’s meeting was open to the media, including opening remarks from Biden and Harris and two governors.
âJust this weekend, my state of Oregon experienced three consecutive days of record high temperatures in the Willamette Valley of over 117 degrees [47 C]”Brown said to the President. âThat is unprecedented. And unfortunately one of the most devastating forest fires in the history of our state follows. “
Newsom said the White House’s stance on the problem has changed significantly since Biden took office six months ago.
“I’ve waited almost four and a half years to hear a president say what you just said,” Newsom said.
“We have an opportunity to flip the page here,” added Newsom, noting that the country “has literally debated the politics of arithmetic in this country for the past few years.” That was a reference to former President Donald Trump’s repeated claims that failure to rake forest floors is a bigger cause of devastating forest fires than climate change.
During the meeting, there was no discussion of introducing rolling power outages to minimize the risk of new forest fires, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan told reporters at the daily briefing at the White House.
Turning off power to prevent electrical transmission lines from igniting fires is a relatively new and controversial practice. It follows some of the worst California fires in recent years, caused by utility equipment.
The National Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates resource mobilization to fight forest fires in the United States, has warned that many western states are facing a greater than usual likelihood of significant forest fires occurring in the next few months.
The US Drought Monitor reports that large areas of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah are experiencing extreme or extraordinary droughts.
âThis drought year in the western United States is unusually large with unusually high temperatures, which are likely to be made worse by global warming. The high temperatures make the drought worse by allowing more precipitation to evaporate before it can reach rivers and aquifers, âsaid Jay Lund, professor of civil law and environmental engineering at the University of California-Davis.
The climate in the western United States has more variable rainfall than most of the country, and this has helped cities and farmers prepare for drier years. But in this unusually dry year, “farms across much of the state are facing more trouble and dropping some less profitable crops. Hydropower production is being reduced,” said Lund, co-director of the university’s Center for Watershed Sciences.
“Forests and communities in the western US are facing an existential crisis,” said Paige Fischer, associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability.
According to Fischer, policymakers have to grapple with how forests acclimate to the increasing speed and extent of fires and how human communities function at heightened risk and still have access to the ecosystem services they now rely on.
The Associated costs
It is also “necessary to distribute the costs of fire protection and risk reduction more fairly,” said Fischer, who heads a research group that deals with the human dimensions of environmental change.
Speaking to governors, Biden also highlighted the need to invest in forest fire prevention and risk mitigation measures, including the nearly $ 50 billion in the bipartisan infrastructure framework that Congress is about to discuss.
The White House also announced on Wednesday that two military units, each with 200 men, will receive training and special equipment to support fire-fighting operations. The Department of Defense will also stand ready to provide cargo aircraft and helicopter transport crews and National Guard and Air Force Reserve equipment, as well as medical evacuation support equipment or water droplets for fire responses.
Government satellites and other sensors are being used to improve forest fire prediction and detection, according to White House officials.