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USDA Forest Service offers funding through Cohesive Fire Strategy grant program

Fire management crews are starting to perform prescribed burns on DNR properties throughout the state.
Wisconsin DNR
Fire management crews are starting to perform prescribed burns on DNR properties throughout the state.

While it might be hard to imagine with all the snow on the ground, Wisconsin’s busiest time of year for wildfires is growing close.

Two thirds of Wisconsin’s wildfires happen in the spring after the snow melts and before things start greening up.

In 2021, there were more than 1,000 reported fires that burned roughly 2,500 acres.

Jolene Ackerman is the Wisconsin DNR Division of Forestry’s Wildland Urban Interface program coordinator. She says just because Wisconsin wildfires don’t make the headlines like western wildfires do, doesn’t mean they aren’t destructive.

“We have hundreds of homes that are threatened by fires every year and there’s dozens of buildings that burn down. In addition, people do die in Wisconsin trying to put out the fire, things get out of hand,” said Ackerman.

Prevention measures are the best way to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

The Wisconsin DNR has plans for 300 prescribed burns across 46,000 acres this year.

“We may do this for fuels reduction, keep open areas open, keep understory ladder fuels reduced so we can minimize the possibility of crown fires accruing, but we really do focus a lot more improvement to habitat,” said Ackerman.

Prescribed burns are just one part of reducing the risk of wildfires.

Ackerman says education and community programs also go a long way. This is key because the majority of the fires started in Wisconsin are the result of human action.

“For example, if a town has a lot of debris burning, people causing wildfires cause their burning their leaves or brush. They’re doing it because they don’t have anywhere to take the material. They feel like it’s their last resort. We may work with a town board to create a brush collection site and then people have an alternative to burning the debris,” Ackerman explained.

Wisconsin has been able to fund some Firewise programs through federal grant money it received through the USDA Forest Service Cohesive Fire Strategy grant program.

The funds are available for non-federal land in Northeast and Midwest states.

“Really it comes from a place of the country trying to deal with the presence of fire on the landscape. As we know, there’s a lot of wildfire occurrence across the country. Many of those fires can be damaging, large and complex. Each year that challenge increases. It becomes more problematic, more costly,” said Mike Rice, cooperative specialist for the USDA Forest Service Eastern Region regional office.

The five-year average to fire wildfires in the U.S. costs the Forest Service over $2 billion a year.

There is $4.3 million dollars available through the Cohesive Fire Strategy Grant Program.

It’s open to Tribal nations, state and local governments, and nonprofits among others.

“It’s really a collective effort for this country to figure out how to work with fire, how to manage fire, how to make our landscapes and communities resilient with the presence of fire,” said Rice.

You can learn about the grant program on the USDA website and apply for it at grants.gov.

The deadline to apply is April 30th.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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