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Plan to slow Western wildfires would clear large strips of land

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Trump administration is proposing an ambitious plan to slow Western wildfires by bulldozing, mowing or revegetating large swaths of land along 11,000 miles of terrain in the West.

The plan that was announced this summer and presented at public open houses, including one in Salt Lake City this week, would create strips of land known “fuel breaks” on about 1,000 square miles of land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

These strips would be in an area known as the Great Basin in parts of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah.

The estimated cost would be about $55 million to $192 million, a wide range that illustrates the variance in costs for the different types of fuel breaks.

Some would completely clear lands.

Others, though, would mow down vegetation and a third method would replant the area with more fire-resistance vegetation.

It would cost another $18 million to $107 million each year to maintain the strips and ensure vegetation doesn’t regrow on the strips of land.

Wildfire experts say the program could help slow fires, but it won’t help in the most extreme fires that can jump these strips of land. The breaks could also fragment wildlife habitat.

An environmental group calls it an ill-conceived and expensive plan that has no scientific backing to show it will work.

A U.S. Geological Survey report issued last year found that fuel breaks could be an important tool to reduce damage caused by wildfires.

However, the agency cautioned that no scientific studies have been done to prove their effectiveness and that they could alter habitat for sagebrush plants and animal communities.

The Bureau of Land Management says it has done about 1,200 assessments of fuel breaks since 2002 and found they help control fires about 80 percent of the time.

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