Several federal agencies in the U.S. have agreed to collaborate in an effort to protect communities from wildfire smoke and reduce the risk of the large, severe fires that produce the hazard.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of the Interior (DOI), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Nov. 9, 2023 to address the issue.
Along with the MOU, the four agencies released a joint plan “outlining wildland fire-related priorities the agencies will focus on over the next two years.”
“Since fires and smoke don’t recognize borders or jurisdictions, neither should we, and this agreement will help agencies … better protect the people and communities we serve,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“The increasing frequency and magnitude of wildfires pose an ever-growing threat to the health of the American public,” said CDC Director Mandy Cohen. “This MOU demonstrates the U.S. government’s commitment to mitigating the negative health consequences from wildfire smoke and is a pledge to protect health by reducing the risk of future, large-scale wildfires.”
Goal is to prepare communities, minimize smoke impacts
Ultimately, the agencies are planning to work together “to reduce the negative health impacts of smoke on human health and community well-being.”
The MOU outlines how the agencies will work together to:
- advance public health preparedness
- minimize smoke impacts to the public, and
- ensure regulatory pathways under the Clean Air Act to accommodate greater use of the U.S. Forest Services’ prescribed fire strategy. Prescribed fires are a controlled application of fire by a team of fire experts under specified weather conditions to restore health to ecosystems that depend on fire.
Their joint workplan outlines the partnership’s focus over the next two years, including:
- community preparedness
- ensuring that land management and public health goals are addressed together
- data collection and sharing, and
- interagency communication and messaging.
These efforts follow the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission Report to Congress, which recommended an “all of the above” approach to address the impacts of wildfires across the U.S.
The MOU “represents a major step forward to the report’s vision of greater coordination and collaboration among agencies working on wildfire.”