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With new Forest Service agreements, Nature Conservancy hopes to grow prescribed fire workforce

 A firefighter uses what's known as a Terra Torch on a 2022 prescribed fire in northwestern Utah.
Austin Catlin
Idaho Falls District BLM
A firefighter uses what's known as a Terra Torch on a 2022 prescribed fire in northwestern Utah.

The Nature Conservancy has reached several new agreements with the U.S. Forest Service that will grow capacity for prescribed fires.

The Nature Conservancy - an environmental nonprofit - has been working with prescribed fire for years. The new agreements will provide some $45 million over five years to the organization to work with federal partners, especially in so-called priority landscapes and high-risk firesheds across the American West.

In Idaho, the organization has also reached a statewide agreement with the Forest Service allowing the nonprofit’s staff to work on prescribed fires on any national forest in the Gem State.

“Let's just say we have resources on the Caribou Targhee [National Forest], and it's raining,” said Matthew Ward, the group’s Idaho resilient forest strategy manager. “But the Boise is in a prescribed fire window, and they could really use people. That's going to allow us to move resources that we have on the CT over to the Boise pretty seamlessly.”

Marek Smith, the conservancy’s North America fire director, said a “limited workforce” has been a big barrier to doing prescribed burns, and that the new agreements are a step in the right direction.

“This opportunity is not going to solve all those problems everywhere,” he said. “But it's a start.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Hey everyone! I’m Murphy Woodhouse, Boise State Public Radio’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter.