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Database meant to prevent catastrophic wildfires gets federal funding boost

National Interagency Fire Center
The Little Bear Fire on the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico in 2012

Wildfires have burned just over 120,000 acres of land in New Mexico in the past year alone and several organizations in the region have received federal funding to fight them.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is supplying $20 million dollars to help create a national vegetation database and fund crucial research meant to help prevent future wildfires.

The money will go to three organizations in New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona that make up the Southwest Ecological Restoration Institutes.

Alan Barton directs New Mexico’s Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute, which will receive some of those funds. He says Congress wanted to help broaden a vegetation treatment database that provides information for fire modeling. That can help prevent massive wildfires nationally before they happen.

“So, when these fires do ignite they will burn close to the ground, they will remain rather small, they won’t reach high intensity and they are less likely to grow into these very large and destructive wildfires,” Barton said.

The database currently logs around 50,000 restoration projects in both New Mexico and Colorado that show different ways forest managers maintain forest health, like tree mastication, forest thinning, prescribed burns and how to gauge wildfire risk.

It also shows where there is less forest management.

The data is mainly focused on federal lands, but there are plans to get information from private landowners through a submission system that is only available for the currently mapped areas.

The funding will last for five years to both complete the database and contribute to wildfire mitigation projects.

Bryce Dix is our local host for NPR's Morning Edition.