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Report: Wildfire grant program largely meeting goals, but some communities need a hand

 A firefighter keeps an eye on a May prescribed fire in Colorado
A firefighter keeps an eye on a May prescribed fire in Colorado

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law made $1 billion available over five years to help communities improve wildfire resilience. A new report looks at how the first round of funding was divvied up.

When awarding grants through the Community Wildfire Defense Grant program, the federal government aimed to prioritize communities that are low-income and face serious wildfire risk. Montana-based Headwaters Economics analyzed the first group of grantees and found that, so far, the program's largely meeting its objectives.

“This first round of grants shows that we're headed in the right direction,” said Kelly Pohl, Headwaters' associate director. “There is room for improvement, but overall, the program is meeting its goals and resources are going to the people and places that are most at risk.”

The report found that 91% of funded proposals were in low-income counties, with a similar portion of funding going to communities with high or very high fire risk. Western states accounted for the vast majority of the $179 million awarded, with nearly $100 million of that going to communities in California.

But so-called low-capacity communities – poorer places with limited local government staff, among other variables – won just 43% of the grants. Technical assistance and help with grant writing could help such places be more competitive in future rounds, Pohl said. And competition is an issue: The program received 416 proposals, requesting a total of more than $524 million.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.

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