wildfires

USDA allots $490 million to reduce wildfire risk

The USDA selected 11 additional landscapes in the West as the sites for expanded efforts to reduce the risk of wildfires, announced Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday. Some $490 million was earmarked for the landscapes, raising USDA expenditures on its Wildfire Crisis Strategy to $930 million across 45 million acres.

From a meat-processing ban to free school lunch, food and ag are on the ballot

In Tuesday's elections, voters will decide several ballot initiatives on food and agricultural issues, including a ban on meat processing facilities in a South Dakota city and the expansion of universal school lunch to Colorado. California voters will determine the fate of a tax on high income earners to pay for green energy and for fighting wildfires, which have cost the state’s agricultural sector tens of millions of dollars. 

California proposal: Tax rich to pay for wildfires and electric vehicles

Voters in California will decide on Nov. 8 whether to raise the state income tax on millionaires to pay for electric cars, charging stations and wildfire prevention programs. So-called Proposition 30 in California has strong support but the double-digit margin was eroding, according to a poll released early this month.

In wine country, Sonoma tightens limits on farm work during wildfires

After a year of raucous protests and stakeholder meetings, Sonoma County announced it had standardized and reformed its "ag pass" program, which allows farms to bring workers into evacuated areas during wildfires when other residents have been told to flee.The county’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to preserve the program, but also imposed limits on when and how farmers could use it. No paywall

Americans overwhelmingly connect climate change and extreme weather

A report from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication released Thursday shows that Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it’s not happening by a ratio of six to one (72 percent vs. 12 percent). Nearly the same percentage (70 percent) think climate change is tied to environmental problems such as extreme heat and wildfire. 

Pay hike of up to 50 percent for fighting wildfires

In a long-expected step, the White House announced hefty increases in pay for wildland firefighters on Tuesday, amounting to an additional $600 million over two years, to confront increasingly destructive fires. The Forest Service has acknowledged difficulty in hiring enough firefighters this year; some state and local agencies offer much higher pay.

Crop farmers to see $6 billion in disaster aid — USDA

Beginning later this month, farmers across the nation will receive around $6 billion in disaster relief for losses due to catastrophic weather and wildfires, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday. The money, part of $10 billion earmarked for agricultural disasters, would be paid through the new Emergency Relief Program (ERP) to offset lower yields and value losses, said the Agriculture Department.

California weighs farmwork in wildfire areas

As California braces for another brutal fire season, farming communities across the state are weighing what it will take to save their harvests — and who, exactly, should bear the brunt of the risks. In places like Sonoma County, those risks are increasingly shouldered by low-wage immigrant farmworkers who pick grapes and milk cows inside the county’s evacuated areas during wildfires. Their work is facilitated by Sonoma’s “ag pass” program, which allows farmers to bring workers into areas that other residents have been told to flee. (No paywall)

Vilsack recuperating from Covid-19; ‘thankfully, my symptoms are mild’

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack “will continue his official duties” while isolating and recovering from Covid-19, said the Agriculture Department on Saturday. Vilsak is the latest among Washington officials, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Attorney General Merrick Garland, to test …

Bringing back ‘good fire’ to the eastern seaboard

“A growing movement of scientists, land management agencies, conservation organizations, and indigenous groups is working to return fire to fire-adapted ecosystems, including forests and grasslands, throughout the U.S.,” writes Gabriel Popkin in FERN's latest story, published with Yale Environment 360.

‘The truth is California does not have enough water’

California’s San Joaquin Valley is getting drier, hotter and more polluted as climate change intensifies, and its communities will need to embrace more equitable agricultural strategies in order to survive, according to local experts and political leaders.(No paywall)

USDA unveils disaster aid for livestock producers

Livestock producers will receive at least $577 million in disaster payments to offset forage losses due to severe drought or wildfires last year, said the Agriculture Department on Thursday.

Drought worsens in wheat-growing Plains

The long-running drought that covers more than half of the continental United States — mostly west of the Mississippi — worsened in the central and southern Plains last week, the heart of U.S. winter wheat production, said the government's Drought Monitor on Thursday. In Kansas, the No. 1 winter wheat state, 31 percent of the crop was rated as being in poor or very poor condition.

White House announces $1.36 billion for wildfire recovery

The Biden administration will spend $1.36 billion on wildfire recovery, including $600 million in California, said Vice President Kamala Harris during a visit to a fire station in San Bernardino, 50 miles east of Los Angeles. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who joined Harris for the announcement, said the USDA would put more than $48 million into projects to reduce the risk of wildfires where federal forests and grasslands meet privately owned land in the West.

The farmworkers in California’s fire evacuation zones

In 2020, as thousands of residents fled Sonoma County because of wildfires, hundreds of farmworkers stayed behind and continued working under a little-known government "ag pass" program, Teresa Cotsirilos reports in FERN's latest story, produced in collaboration with Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and the radio show World Affairs. No Paywall

Agriculture can be climate leader with ‘build back’ funding, says Vilsack

The farm sector would gain $27 billion for climate mitigation, including payments for planting cover crops, from the social welfare and climate change bill passed by the House, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Agriculture can lead the way in the fight on climate with climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices that sequester carbon, reduce emissions and create new and better market opportunities for producers."

Congress approves $10 billion in disaster aid to agriculture

Farmers and ranchers would be eligible for $10 billion in disaster relief for losses in 2020 and this year under the short-term government funding bill passed by Congress on Thursday. The bill also extended the life of a livestock price-reporting bill until Dec. 3, giving lawmakers time to agree on a multiyear reauthorization.

‘State of emergency’ in drought-hit U.S. forests

The government needs to quicken the pace of its fuel reduction work in public forests at the same time that it marshals enough crews to fight wildfires, said Forest Service chief Randy Moore at a House hearing on Wednesday. "The sobering takeaway: America's forests are in a state of emergency, and it's time to treat them like one."

House ag committee details spending for massive budget bill

Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee released details of their spending plan on Thursday, including $23 billion to combat wildfires and millions more to battle climate change. The committee is set to mark up the legislation on Friday, part of the budget reconciliation, or Build Back Better bill, expected to total $3.5 trillion.

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