The Texas Panhandle has seen a high number of wildfires in recent years, as climate change and drought take their toll. Last year alone, grass fires in Potter, Gray, Wheeler and other Panhandle counties burned more than half a million acres and killed four people.
Now, as The Texas Observer reports, that problem may be about to get worse. Experts say a federal initiative called the Conservation Reserve Program has exacerbated the fire risk.
The USDA pays owners of CRP land to not cultivate that acreage, to prevent soil erosion and increase biodiversity. However, caretakers of CRP land often don’t mow or burn the grass on the land, as required by law, and this increases fire risk. And new regulations recently proposed by Republicans would increase the amount of conservation land across the Panhandle—while at the same time cutting the staff available to enforce the program. The result could be an even bigger tinderbox, waiting to burst into flames.