Secretary Jewell Leads Federal Family Discussion on Mitigating Risk in the Wildland-Urban Interface

Last edited 02/15/2023

Date: May 18, 2016

WASHINGTON – With the 2016 wildfire season already underway, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today led a discussion with federal family firefighting agencies at the White House regarding the increasing danger to communities in wildland-urban interface (WUI) areas as fire seasons become hotter, drier and longer. Jewell also highlighted the need for greater collaborative action to enhance community resilience against these risks and strengthen federal firefighter safety and preparedness. 

According to Headwaters Economics, since 1990, 60 percent of new homes nationally have been built in the WUI, where houses, structures and people reside adjacent to or within wildlands and are therefore at risk of structure loss, injury and death from wildfire. As stated in the 2014 U.S. National Climate Assessment, the western U.S. will continue to experience increasing frequency of large wildfires and longer wildfire durations which are strongly associated with increased spring and summer temperatures and an earlier spring snowmelt. Fire models project more wildfire and increased risk to communities across extensive areas in the future.

"Nearly all wildfires today involve some degree of urban interface so we must work in close partnership with city, state, county and rural fire departments and other partners on a regular basis to ensure the proper resources and teams are in place to meet the projected need,” Secretary Jewell said. “It’s imperative that home and business owners and communities, especially those in wildland-urban interface areas, take this seriously and accept personal responsibility for simple actions that will reduce wildfire exposure, protect property and save lives. Homeowners can visit and Ready Set Go for actions they can take to reduce their risk."

In her remarks today at the White House roundtable, Secretary Jewell emphasized the importance of cooperative relationships and collaboration at all levels to mitigate wildfire risk, increase firefighter safety and identify further policy actions needed to enhance community resilience within the WUI. The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy provides a strategic roadmap for working together – across federal, tribal, state and local governments and with non-governmental organization (NGO) partners – to manage fire-prone lands; protect the nation's natural, tribal and cultural resources; and make communities safe and resilient for future generations. 

Jewell also pointed to two actions announced today to increase WUI resilience and mitigation measures. The first is Presidential Executive Order titled Wildland-Urban Interface Federal Risk Mitigation, which will mitigate wildfire risk to federal buildings located in the WUI, reduce risks to people, and help minimize property loss to wildfire. Secondly, federal, state, local, tribal and non-government leaders committed today to a multi-scale, collaborative approach to address the challenges posed by wildfire in the WUI; advancing community resilience in the WUI; managing adjacent landscapes wisely; and continuing to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of wildland fire response. 

Jewell also announced that next week she will be visiting the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho as part of an effort to highlight innovative fire-affected landscape restoration efforts. While in Boise, Jewell will announce a series of important funds for additional resilience planning and restoration projects across the country and will receive important updates on the next month’s wildfire season outlook. 

If the fire season is as costly as recent years, federal agencies will be forced to take funding out of other critical programs that increase the long-term resilience of public lands and National Forests to wildfire. President Obama's Fiscal Year 2016 budget continues to propose changing how the federal government budgets for fire suppression costs to treat the requirements of extreme fire seasons in the same way as other emergency disaster needs.

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