By Andrew Hay
TIERRA MONTE, N.M. (Reuters) – After the U.S. government started the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history in April, it is asking victims to share recovery costs on private land, jeopardizing relief efforts, according to residents and state officials.
The blaze was sparked by U.S. Forest Service (USFS) prescribed fires to reduce wildfire risk. The burns went out of control after a series of missteps, torching 432 residences and over 530 square miles (1373 square km) of mostly privately owned forests and meadows, much of it held by members of centuries-old Indo-Hispano ranching communities.
“Today I’m announcing the federal government’s covering 100% of the cost,” President Joe Biden said during a visit to New Mexico in June.
But federal cost-sharing statutes on other federal relief programs are limiting Biden’s authority and exposing holes in the government safety net meant to help survivors and restore landscapes.
Many fire-hit families cannot afford sharing at least 25% of costs on the USDA’s Emergency Forest Restoration Program.
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Andrew Hay writes for Thomson/Reuters.