Wyoming congressional delegation request wildfire mitigation investment

SHERIDAN —Wyoming’s congressional delegation wants the state included in the federal fight against wildfires.

In January 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service announced a 10-year strategy to confront wildfires in the United States, specifically in the West.

The initial strategy identified high risk firesheds in South Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and California. The USDA invested in 10 landscapes across each of the regions. The investment was intended to “make a difference in reducing wildfire risk,” according to a USDA document.

According to the document, the high risk firesheds are “large forested landscapes and rangelands with a high likelihood that an ignition could expose homes, communities, and infrastructure to wildfire.”

U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said reducing wildfire risk is a long road.

“These efforts to reduce wildfire risk to communities located in these landscapes are just the beginning,” Moore said in a news release. “The first-year investments are part of a 10-year strategy to reduce the exposure of communities and infrastructure to the risk of catastrophic wildfire.”

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in January investments would be made to mitigate the wildfire risks in 11 landscapes.

USDA wildfire mitigation investments made over the last two years total about $930 million across about 45 million acres.

Forest Service owned land in Wyoming was newly identified as a high-risk fireshed. The land, however, was not selected for investment.

U.S. Senators Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, and John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman, R-Wyoming, sent a letter March 15 requesting the USDA and the Forest Service to include Wyoming in its wildfire strategy.

“We… urge USDA and the Forest Service to better defend Wyoming’s forests and rangelands by including them in the 10-year strategy, as well as broader agency efforts to combat wildfires,” the trio wrote in the letter.

Hageman said the prominence of federally owned land in Wyoming is even more reason for the state to be included in the strategy.

“We need to make sure we are included in that, obviously, with our national forest and the magnitude of federal lands,” Hageman said. “...48% of our (land in this) state is owned by the federal government and Wyoming should not be left out of the programs that are going to help us to be able to protect those natural resources.”

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, Wyoming had 443 wildfires that burned a total of 25,766 acres across the state.