The True Cost of Forest Fires
By Marcelene Sutter
As the world warms up, the struggle to raise the money to fight increasingly intense and more frequent forest fires continues. The rise in temperatures is causing trees to dry out, and fire-prone areas are already feeling the effects. Wildfires are burning stronger and longer, and the government is struggling to provide the funds to fight back. These fires have become a nightmare both for the officials struggling to find the funds to fight them as well as for the firefighters who work tirelessly to fight blazes that are burning more intensely than before.
The increasing threat of forest fires is directly reflected in the capital needed to fight them; before 1999, there was not a need to spend more than $1 billion per year on fire suppression, but since 2000, the budget for such efforts has been forced to steadily rise due to demand, and has topped $1.5 billion multiple times since 2006. This is a double-edged sword for the Forest Service, which is forced into “fire borrowing,” — taking funds from other programs to combat the fires that are destroying millions of acres of forests while simultaneously consuming millions of dollars. While these fires do need to be fought, this appropriation of funds takes away from other vital operations, such as reforestation efforts and research into new firefighting strategies, which work to reverse the negative effects of these devastating fires.
A new solution is being sought by policy makers, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said at an event in Fort Collins, Colo., in July that “…lightning strikes that start forest fires are treated differently from a funding perspective than hurricanes and tornadoes and other natural disasters. We think there should be greater alignment.” Congress included increased funding to fight wildfires in the Continuing Appropriations Act that ended the shutdown, but the struggle is still not over. At American Forests, we recognize the paramount challenge that forest fires present to forest health. To learn more about how we work to restore ecosystems damaged by fire, check out our work on Forests and Fire. To help, write to your representative asking them to support the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, which facilitates the reduction of wildfire management costs.