Two wildland firefighters from the Snake River Hotshots Crew stand on a small rise overlooking flames burning in tall, dried grass. Black smoke rises from the flames. The fire and smoke fade to the left, and snow-covered peaks are visible in the distance. Photo by Austin Catlin, BLM.
BY JEFF RUPERT
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a historic down payment on ensuring that future generations have a high quality of life, which is currently threatened by the worsening climate crisis and increasingly severe wildfires.
In 2022, the U.S. Department of the Interior laid the groundwork to implement this historic investment and allocated $180 million to increase federal wildland firefighter pay and expand wildfire mitigation and resilience. Building on these efforts to accelerate the pace and scale of our wildland fire management activities is a priority in 2023.
Interior’s work in wildland fire management would not be possible without our dedicated fire personnel and support staff. Our workforce reforms to better support them will continue this year. A new occupational series will be implemented to clearly define the unique responsibilities and career advancement opportunities for federal wildland firefighters. In collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, we will also continue development of a joint health and wellbeing program that includes mental health support and steps to reduce exposure to line-of-duty hazards.
With funding from the law, the Interior Department expects to reduce hazardous fuels on an additional 800,000 acres in 2023. We will also advance cross-boundary collaboration with the USDA Forest Service, Tribal Nations, state and local agencies, and private landowners.
Interior will use Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investments to expand post-fire restoration activities in high priority areas. We will invest in critical infrastructure, post-fire monitoring and evaluation, and storing plant materials essential to restore native vegetation. Interior will also increase emergency assessment of hazards from post-fire debris flows.
In addition, the Department will improve its wildfire response capabilities by investing in radio interoperability and satellite detection technology in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the USDA Forest Service.
This is an exciting time with many opportunities to improve how we manage and live with wildfires. Already this fiscal year, we have allocated another $228 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, with additional investments expected throughout the year to further accelerate wildfire risk reduction and resilience nationwide.
As the Director of the Office of Wildland Fire, Jeff Rupert oversees the Department of the Interior’s Wildland Fire Management Program, which spans four bureaus and administers over 535 million acres of public and Tribal lands. In this role, he sets policy and ensures the program’s $1.5 billion budget is strategically invested to reduce wildfire risk, rehabilitate burned landscapes, promote a better understanding of wildfire, and support firefighters. During more than 30 years with the Department of the Interior, Rupert also served as the Chief of Natural Resources and Conservation Planning and as a refuge manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildfire Service.