Now that the so-called “Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)” is signed into law, permitting reform is top of mind in Washington. While the passage of the IRA included billions of dollars in new spending and taxes, it has given regulatory reform advocates the opportunity to modernize America’s antiquated permitting system. Although much of the permitting conversation has centered around energy infrastructure, the moment also presents a rare opportunity to streamline processes that stymie critical conservation projects like forest restoration.
Modern-day wildfires burn hotter and larger than fires of the past in large part because of a century of fire suppression. This suppression policy distorted natural fire cycles and made forests less resilient to wildfire. Fire is a key component of a forest’s ecosystem and more frequent, less intense fires facilitate forest regeneration. By suppressing these types of fires, fuels have built up and now feed larger and hotter wildfires that threaten forest ecosystems and the communities around them.
In 2021, one such fire swept through the Eldorado National Forest in the Sierra Nevada. Grizzly Flats, a small mountain community neighboring the national forest, lay in the Caldor Fire’s path.
For decades, the Grizzly Flats community had known wildfire was a threat. Community volunteers had raised money to fund restoration projects that would make the forest land they managed more resilient to fire. Projects like mechanical thinning and prescribed fire would reduce the fuel loads that fires can consume, making the inevitable wildfire less severe and easier to manage.
The forest lands managed by the federal government, however, remained a threat. The Forest Service was well aware of the risk and had committed to treating 15,000 acres in what became known as the Trestle Forest Health Project. But increasing the pace and scale of that work proved impossible.