Interior to launch mental health program for wildland firefighters, boost wildfire spending
Firefighters are seen behind the flames of a backfire they are setting to battle the French Fire on August 24, 2021 near Wofford Heights, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
The U.S. Interior Department will create a health and wellbeing program for wildland firefighters and boost spending on firefighting efforts by $103 million in fiscal 2022, the department said in an exclusive to States Newsroom on Friday.
The additional funding, to be announced in Boise, Idaho, by Secretary Deb Haaland, comes as part of the $1.5 billion in last year’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure law signed into law by President Joe Biden that’s meant to address wildfires, which also directed the creation of mental health services for wildland firefighters.
Most of the funding, $80.9 million, will be used to broaden and hasten work to manage fuels in fire-prone areas and will help the department reach 2 million more acres than it did last year, a roughly 30% increase, according to Interior. Another $19.4 million will be used to rehabilitate areas after they’ve burned.
The health program was also a product of the infrastructure law, which compelled Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create programs to address mental health needs, including treatment of 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 Interior bureaus — Indian Affairs, Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service — to establish a new system of trauma support services focused on early intervention.
“Wildland firefighters work in incredibly stressful environments that can take a significant toll on their overall health and wellbeing, as well as on those who love them,” Haaland said in a statement.
“Standing up a targeted interagency effort to provide trauma-informed mental health care is critical.”
The USDA’s Forest Service employs most federal firefighters, but about 5,000 work for Interior bureaus. Federal wildland firefighters do not receive some health benefits that are common for those in municipal departments.
The Interior Department will also announce $3.1 million for the Joint Fire Science Program, a collaboration with USDA. The funding will support research into firefighter mental health, landscape resiliency and methods of wildfire prevention.
Some funding will also go toward creating a wildfire risk mapping and mitigation tool, which Interior is developing with USDA and the Association of State Foresters.
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