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Southern California to get slice of $930 million in federal funds for wildfire reduction efforts

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The Biden administration’s announcement Thursday, Jan. 19, that $930 million would be allocated to 10 Western states to reduce wildfire dangers was welcome news to U.S. Forest Service officials in Southern California.

Nathan Judy, spokesman for the Cleveland National Forest — the southernmost national forest in California, consisting of 460,000 acres — said it has yet to be determined how much of that $930 million will be directed to the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Region, which includes Cleveland as well as the San Bernardino, Angeles and Los Padres national forests.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an announcement that the funding, made possible through President Joe Biden’s landmark Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, will directly protect at-risk communities and critical infrastructure across 11 additional landscapes in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

“It is no longer a matter of if a wildfire will threaten many Western communities in these landscapes, it is a matter of when,” Vilsack said in a statement. “The need to invest more and to move quickly is apparent.”

The injection of federal funding to be used for fuel reduction programs and other wildfire reduction measures will affect nearly 45 million acres across 137 of 250 high-risk fire sheds in the western U.S., the U.S. Forest Service said Thursday.

Judy said the government funding will augment the Cleveland National Forest’s annual budget for fuel reduction and treatment projects, including tree clearing, brush thinning and removal and controlled burns. He said the Forest Service allocates about $1.2 million a year to the forests comprising the Southern Region, and of that Cleveland receives about $400,000.

Among the communities within and around the Cleveland National Forest are Trabuco Canyon, Wildomar, Ramona and the Temescal Valley. The Pechanga Band of Indians also claims ancestral ties to the land near Lake Elsinore.

Judy said wildfire safety within the forest’s three ranger districts has been a collaborative effort between forest service firefighters, surrounding communities and tribal lands adjacent the forest.

“Working to get this all done is going to be excting for us. We’re looking forward to the money that’s coming down,” Judy said.

Last year, the Forest Service announced it was kicking off a strategy to prevent out-of-control fires that start on public lands from raging through communities. In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Vilsack acknowledged that the shortage of workers plaguing other sectors of the economy is hindering the agency’s wildfire efforts.

Its goal is to lower wildfire risks over the next decade across almost 80,000 square miles of public and private lands. The work is projected to cost up to $50 billion. Last year’s climate and infrastructure bills combined directed about $5 billion to the effort.

Angeles National Forest spokeswoman Dana Dierkes could not immediately say Thursday how much funding that region would receive and what specific projects it would be used for. But in a statement, Angeles National Forest Supervisor Roman Torres said, “We will work in tandem with partners, communities, and tribes to continue to mitigate wildfire risk and restore forest health using the best available science.”

The Angeles National Forest covers nearly 700,000 acres in the Los Angeles area.

Yassy Wilkins, spokesperson for the San Bernardino National Forest, could not be reached for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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