Interior to launch mental health program for wildland firefighters, increase wildfire spending
BOISE, Idaho — The U.S. Department of the Interior will create a health and wellness program for wildland firefighters and increase firefighting spending by $103 million in fiscal year 2022, sSecretary Deb Haaland said Friday.
additional funding, that Haaland announced at the National Interagency Fire Centeris part of the $1.5 billion in last year’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure law signed into law by President Joe Biden that aims to fight wildfires, who also spearheaded the creation of mental health services for wildfire firefighters.
The bulk of the funding, $80.9 million, will be used to expand and accelerate fuels management work in fire-prone areas and help the department reach 2 million more acres than last year. an increase of about 30%, according to Interior. Another $19.4 million will be used to rehabilitate areas after they burn.
The programs are essential now, with climate change making fires frequent and intense, Haaland said.
“One thing is abundantly clear: that climate change will continue to make fires in the West worse and that we must continue to invest in the conservation of our ecosystems,” she said. “We must and we will continue to stay coordinated because the reality is that these days…these are ‘fire years’, not ‘fire seasons’ anymore.
“Hotter, drier conditions are causing more extreme fire behavior, and the increased frequency of fires in urban areas is impacting more homes, businesses and communities each year.”
The mental health and wellness program was also a product of the Infrastructure Act, which required the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create programs to address mental health needs, including treatment post-traumatic stress disorder.
The health program will hire people to respond to critical incidents that require stress management. It will also add health care capacity in four inland offices – Indian Affairs, Lands Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service – to establish a new system of trauma-focused support services. on early intervention.
Officials said the program will augment and better coordinate existing approaches to help firefighters stay resilient and recover from trauma on the job. They are expecting several million dollars in funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but were unable to provide an exact funding amount during a Friday press briefing.
“We have more support to expand the capacity than we already have in agencies, and that’s what we’re very grateful for,” said Grant Beebe, fire director for NIFC’s Bureau of Land Management. “So (we’re) not putting in place a whole new program, but actually strengthening one that we’ve had some experience with and are having great success with with our firefighters.”
In a statement ahead of the announcement, Haaland said the goal “to provide trauma-informed mental health care is essential.”
“Wildland firefighters work in incredibly stressful environments that can significantly harm their overall health and well-being, and those who love them,” she said.
The USDA Forest Service employs most federal firefighters, but about 5,000 work for interior offices. Federal Forest Firefighters do not receive certain health benefits which are common to those of municipal services.
The Department of the Interior will also announce $3.1 million for the Joint Fire Science Program, a collaboration with the USDA. The funding will support research into firefighter mental health, landscape resilience and wildfire prevention methods.
Part of the funding will also be used to create a wildfire hazard mapping and mitigation tool, which Interior is developing with the USDA and the Association of State Foresters.