PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Bureau of Land Management says it will pay for 11,000 miles of strategic fire breaks in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah to help control wildfires.
The fire breaks will prop up wildfire mitigation and help protect firefighters, communities and natural resources, The Oregonian newspaper reported on Saturday.
Wildfires are becoming bigger and more frequent across the Great Basin states. From 2009 to 2018, more than 13.5 million acres of BLM land burned in the project area.
“Recovering from the devastating effects of wildfires can take decades in the rugged, high-desert climate of the Great Basin. These tools will help firefighters contain fires when they break out,” said acting Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond. “That’s why creating fuel breaks is incredibly important to the entire basin, the people who live in these communities, and our wildland firefighters.”
Fire breaks are intended to break up fire fuels by creating breaks in vegetation that slow a blaze’s progress. By implementing them strategically, they help firefighters control the spread of fire, and can protect homes and resources.
Some scientists debate the effectiveness of fire breaks, raising questions about whether these efforts are worth funding.
But the BLM said that assessments of more than 1,200 fire breaks found that 78% of them helped control wildfire and 84% helped change fire behavior. It said “the BLM has extensively documented that fuel breaks, and other types of fuel treatments, are effective.”
Jennifer Jones, a spokeswoman for the BLM, said the program will streamline the implementation process by reducing or eliminating the need for environmental analysis.
The timeline for implementation and the location of fire breaks will depend on what offices develop plans and apply for funding.
Because BLM offices have not requested funds, Jones said, the BLM can’t provide a figure for what the plan will cost.
“Costs will depend on how many fuel breaks are actually constructed, what types of fuel breaks are constructed, where they are constructed, whether they are constructed by employees or contractors,” Jones said.