When the Biden administration unveiled a multibillion dollar initiative to make communities in 10 Western states safer from wildfires, Billings, Montana, correspondent Matthew Brown wanted to identify the communities most at risk from fires starting on public lands and to find where the government planned to thin forests and conduct controlled burns.
Brown joined forces with the climate data team’s Camille Fassett and Caleb Diehl. Using U.S. Forest Service data and interviewing government and independent experts, they examined the government’s ambitious goal of reducing wildfire risk to more than 500 communities in the West. They found that one year into what’s envisioned as a decade-long effort, federal land managers had fallen behind in their thinning programs for several of their highest-priority forests. Their data analysis also found the thinning program had skipped over some at-risk communities to work in less threatened areas.
This all-formats team, with visuals from San Francisco-based video journalist Terry Chea and photographer Godofredo Vasquez, told the story of a stumbling start to a historic wildfire mitigation effort intended to avoid a repeat of the climate-driven conflagrations that destroyed Western communities in recent years. The package included strong text, action-packed video and photos, drone shots and three interactives and graphics.