Friday, July 12, 2013

Wildfire Mitigation: Why Can't We Solve This Simple Problem?

Outcomes from reducing hazardous (trees and brush) fuels are hard to quantify because you can't measure fires that might have gotten out of control or destroyed houses but didn't because of fuel source reduction or elimination programs?  Yet, no lives should be lost trying to save homes from burning.

The Center has a Wildfire Mitigation Program.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, 65 million to 82 million acres of National Forest lands are at a "high or very high risk of fire," and are in need of restoration.

Between 1960 and 1970, there was only one year, 1969, when wildfires burned more than five million acres in the U.S. In the last decade, it happened eight out of 10 years.

The U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department agencies spent a combined $206 million on fire suppression in 1991, $953 million in 2001 and $1.7 billion in 2011.

If the pending federal budget passes, funding for the Forest Service's hazardous-fuels program would decline to $201 million from $301 million, and the Interior Department's would fall to $96 million from $145 million.

Why are the Forest Service and Interior Department budgets being reduced? Officials at the Forest Service and Interior Department note the growing costs of fighting larger fires forced them to choose.  And again, wildland firefighting is utilized more than wildfire prevention because fighting wildfires can be easily quantified and wildfire prevention cannot.

According to the USDA Forest Service, the number of housing units within a half mile of a national forest grew to 1.8 million in 2000, from 484,000 in 1940. In the same period, housing units within national forest boundaries grew to 1.2 million, from 335,000.  (WSJ, 8/11/2013)

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